It’s People First, Brands Second as Unilever Takes a New Approach in India


Unilever is declaring that it wants to craft “brands for life,” and is launching its transformational philosophy in India.

The U.K.-Dutch CPG giant says it believes that the new approach will boost its corporate mission of doubling its business and halving its environmental footprint, Unilever CMO Keith Weed told the Times of India. The basic idea is to put people first — not brands — and to disrupt traditional thinking as pathways for unleashing the true and long-term power of its brands. That includes putting “an environmental and social mission at [the] core” of brands such as Lifebuoy and Surf Excel, Weed said.

“It’s a new approach to marketing,” he said, which “stands on three pillars. The first is putting people first. Second is the power of the brands. And the last thing is a classic piece of what we call ‘unlock the magic’ … some kind of a spark that can catch people’s attention.”[more]

Unilever chose to pilot this new approach in India because it is a huge growth market for the company, and also a diverse one. “If it works well here,” Weed said, “we look forward to roll it out around the world.”

“We need to understand people with the challenge of a changing life and changing styles,” he told the Times. “We also chose power of brands because we are a branded-goods business.”

Weed didn’t specify the connection, but a recent Unilever initiative in India seemed to take this approach. It involved the Lifebuoy soap brand and a promotion tied to the ancient Hindu festival known as Kumbh Mela.

The annual tradition sees millions of Indian pilgrims take to major cities in order to purge their sins in the Ganges River. At restaurants, this means heavy consumption of roti, an unleavened flatbread that is a staple of Indian diets. On more than two million roti, according to, Unilever stamped the message, “Did you wash your hands with Lifebuoy?” in Hindi.

Not only was this clever outreach, but it also demonstrated Unilever’s approach to “putting people first.” That’s because Lifebuoy’s handwashing campaign — since it was launched five years ago — reportedly already has helped reduce the deaths of children from diarrhea by half.

Expect more such initiatives from Unilever brands in India under the company’s new initiative — and then perhaps around the world.