One company, different platforms (Part 5) Unilever manages co-creation for its various brands

The world is too fast, complex and networked for any company to have all the answers inside

Yochai Benkler, author of The Wealth Of Networks


In the previous posts of this series (about Danone, Heineken, Coca-Cola and Siemens), I used the expression “One brand, different platforms” to talk about brands’ online co-creation efforts. This time, it’s more appropriate to say “One company, different platforms“, because Unilever is not really a brand for the general public, much more known are brands like Axe, Sunsilk, Becel or Knorr. Well all of these brands have engaged in a form of co-creation in a way… and here’s how.



To find out more about Unilever's logo, click on the image


First, let’s talk about an example that is also cited by Francis Gouillart and Venkat Ramaswamy in The Power of Co-Creation: Sunsilk. In India, Hindustan Unilever Ltd. (HUL) has launched an online community called Sunsilk Gang of Girls in June 2006 to allow its target audience – young girls – to express themselves. In their book, Ramaswamy & Gouillart say the  community grew from to 614,000 members in eighteen months – today I see they have 764,323 registered users! But beside the size of the community, they highlight substancial growth figures in Indian sales, market share, recognition and identity. They decided make this initiative accessible to other markets, like the French one (see below).



The homepage of the French version of


As the screenshot shows here, the next step was to invite experts to co-create products with them: “In 2009, Unilever opened up its innovation process to […] seven well-known hairstylists to co-create new offerings“,Ramaswamy & Gouillart’s book says, leading to a creation of a range called Sunsilk Co-Creations. Interestingly, the websites are a bit different by country: take a look at the Kiwi website. Anyway, other co-creation efforts have been undertaken, like the one to co-create a deodorant:



Highlighted by ForresterResearch in a recent case study called Co-Creation Provides A Twist To Unilever’s Axe Product Strategy, this is an (on- and offline) initiative conducted in 2007/2008 with the British agency Face, who “recruited a group of young, articulate, and creative men and women (for) an in-person co-creation session to explore new product ideas and messaging campaigns”. They started with offline sessions and followed-up with online consumer involvement, and the key insight was that “the community latched on to the concept that fragrances change over the course of the day“. This led to the developpement of Twist, a fragrance that changes from a “fresh” to “smooth” over the course of a day — a product idea that Unilever initially hadn’t considered pursuing:


The product was launched in 2010, which is still a very long time after initial product development efforts… The case study indeed says that “once the group had settled on the (…) fragrance, Axe turned to traditional market research, production, and agency channels to test, build, and bring to market the community-generated idea“. To that extent, I would argue that the process is not very different from traditional market research… Anyway, after these web-based consumer research inituatives, let’s have a look at another type of co-creation: The ones by which Unilever leveraged consumer creativity for consumer-generated content initiatives.

The first one I discovered was a major UGC-push with crowdsourcing-platform MoFilm. As reported in April 2010, the launched a global competition called Consumer Creative Challenge with 13 of its brands like Dove, Lipton or Vaseline. At that time, Unilever’s VP of global communications planning said that they wanted “to offer more participation for our consumers, to get closer to consumers and allow them to be more involved with our brands“. The contest was run in various languages (including English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Chinese) and creatives came up with great contributions. The winning entry came from Japan and promoted Vaseline, check it out here:



Similarly, Unilever is currently leveraging the global co-creation community eYeka to engage creative individuals in a broad variety of subjects: killing germs (Lifebuoy), telling scientific innovation (Pond’s Institute), creating a teaser for a women’s beauty (LUX), illustrate the preparation of a chicken (Knorr) etc. Beyond brands, Unilever is also looking to see consumers tell them how little daily actions make a big difference for more sustainable living. Not only to these contests generate consumer-rooted content which is essential in today’s communication campaign, but they also allow to source local insights about brand perception or product use. The following quote could illustrates this…

We expect it will lead to more insight on what consumers really moves.  This can lead to change and improvement of our products and provides a wealth of ideas

… but it actually comes from something else: a great blog post about Unilever’s engagment in co-creation via facebook. In this post, Gianluigi Cuccureddu describes that Unilever’s marketers will leverage the social network to interact directly with consumers about eating habits or the perception of its brands. This type of interaction-based co-creation is probably the most serious effort, essentially because the company is directly interacting with consumers. Bernard Cova tells us that this is no easy task… but if it works out well, then they’ll be a big step further towards online co-creation!

I’d be glad to have your comments!


  1. Interesting post- but don’t be misled, the Sun Silk “Co -creations” line may be cleverly named but has NOTHING to do with co-creation. It’s the old PR strategy of “celebrity endorsement” applied to a product, and it’s not new at all…the “co-creators” are celebrities in their own field, who agreed to put their face on the product for a few; it’s part of a recent trend in beauty and “masstige” products (see the P&G beauty brands too for examples), but it’s definitely NOT co-creation.
    The initiative in the end definitely is; however, as you correctly report, it got good response from creatives and professionals (same happened with the great campaign “Hugocreate” by P&G for fragrance brand Hugo Boss)- the average consumer may be not so willing/ready/interested in so-creating (personal gut feeling, no evidence to show 😉


    1. Thanks for your comment “dodicidodici” 😉
      I agree that as soon as high quality input is needed (i.e. competency), it might be difficult to talk about co-creation with consumers. This is also true for the late phase of SunSilk… but paralelly they used a consumer involvement strategy that is interesting, by building that engagement platform for young girls (the SunSilk Gand of Girls). When you visit their website today, though, I agree that it has turned more into an expert platform than a consumer platform.


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