Business Lessons from Hindustan Unilever Limited (Better known as "The CEO Factory" of India)

Yesterday I completed "The CEO Factory" by Sudhir Sitapati & my mind is still musing about all the practical things taught by this book. It has been the most wholesome read I ever had on subjects of Marketing, and Business in general.

William lever started selling Sunlight & Lifebuoy in India in1888 and Hindustan Unilever formed in 1956. Today Hindustan Unilever is India's biggest FMCG brand in Value.

What an Incredible journey of 125 years in India!

This article is divided into 5 broad chapters & 8 lessons, covering everything from making a product to delivering it to the end-users.

Chapter 1: Advertising Lessons from HUL


Advertising the sexiest part of marketing. It is the only part of the business where both right-brain & left-brain, feeling & thought, magic & logic, are equally used.


HUL spends 3,500 Crore or 20% of all TV ads in India (Numero Uno spender)

Lesson No. 01: Brand image is your brand’s personality & you shouldn’t be changing it too often

Zakir Hussain’s tabla made Taj Mahal Tea famous. It imprints the classical music ambiance with the famous phrase "Wah Taj" while sipping the original Indian Tea.


Overtime Taj tried contemporary celebrities like Madhuri Dixit & Saif Ali khan.

This move proved ineffective & Taj’s Market share in the premium segment took a hit because people still connect "Taj Mahal" tea with Tablas.

Classic music is the real identity of Taj Mahal Tea

After conducting consumer research, it was confirmed that Taj is Classical music & it shouldn't be tempared with celebrities.

HUL quickly took Taj Mahal back to its classical music structure where musicians play mesmerizing music to the refrain of “Wah Taj”


HUL got Niladri Kumar, Rahul Sharma & Nirali Kartik in the new ad campaign.

Taj Mahal’s advertising has suddenly become recognizable again & the brand has started gaining Market share after a Decade.

Remember Flipkart introduced "kid-adults" in their famous ad which they dropped but has to again use them for the same reason.

Expecting a return of "Chaukpur Cheetahs" for amazon in IPL season?

Lesson No. 02: “Daag Achhe Hey”, blockbuster ad of Surf Excel

From 2005 to 2010 Surf Excel tried every trick in the advertising book but none was growing the brand. They did every possible targeted campaign specific to chocolate stains, remove ink stains, remove every stain, remove stains without fading colors & even remove stains in half the time. All have failed.

Mr. Sudhir Sitapati, then brand manager of Surf Excel found a Brazilian concept on Modern Parenting which told parents that stains were the part of learning & children should be encouraged to get dirty.

Upon meeting mothers, two things were concluded, One, they put value (only value no other thing except value) over learning. Moms cherish values such as empathy, expressing love, and generosity over learning.

Second, being a fact that Stains are accidental & not something related to fun activities.


Mr. Gopal Vittal (Current CEO of Bharti Airtel), then head of the laundry division created a brief for Lowe Lintas for the ad from the above learnings. ( See the image below)



Three scripts that were suggested by Lintas & Gopal went with one were a boy & his sister walking back home, when his sister fall in a puddle.

The Puddle ad get in the top ten ads of the decade 2000-2010 by Economic Times

Most importantly, Surf Excel which was the 5th largest brand in 2005, is today HUL's largest brand.