Unilever launches new ideas hub as part of overall goal to find the next Facebook

Unilever says today’s launch of IDEAS, a new crowdsourcing platform to help its brands directly invest in start ups through its Foundry initiative, will help it move even closer to finding and investing in the next Facebook.

The new platform is part of the FMCG giant’s plans to increase its use as an idea-generation mechanism tenfold or more by 2020.

Unilever launched the Foundry last year in a bid to find innovative marketing start-ups working across areas including digital, content, social and mobile to help support its FMCG brands. However, it is hoping the new direct crowd sourcing portal IDEAS will allow it to invest more in individuals – such as students and filmmakers – with ideas that require mentoring.

“We think Unilever consumers will respond better to marketing ideas created by their peers, opposed to the cumbersome process of our internal marketing team going through briefs step-by-step, as there’s more of a spontaneity and honesty about the indie creative process,” Unilever’s senior vice president of global marketing Marc Mathieu told Marketing Week.

“Through the Foundry we’ve already started to work with people making ibeacon tech and AI, concepts that are the next big wave of technology. Some of our investments will lose, some will win, but we know some will emerge and be as big if not bigger than Facebook.”

Through the pilot programme of IDEAS, Unilever Foundry has already announced two opportunities to engage in a $100,000 pilot with the company. One seeks ideas for incentivising consumer advocates to create content for their brands, while the second is looking for startups that can automate how brands discover and harvest quality UGC.

Mathieu pointed to Unilever’s recent collaboration with Mofilm, a global platform that connects filmmakers with brands to crowd source creative content, as part of the inspiration behind IDEAS.

The tie-up resulted in the Cupidity campaign for ice cream brand Cornetto. It saw young filmmakers create sharable content and the initiative, featuring 11 short films, won a Silver Lion at the Cannes Film Festival 2014.

Mathieu said in the future Unilever could start to use the Foundry to invest in people and businesses that don’t necessarily end up working directly with its brands.

“Unilever isn’t just about its brands, it is about people and we want to help plant the seed for a billion pound start-up or idea.”

Over recent years, Unilever has upped its digital spend as part of a wider goal to drive efficiencies in the cost of producing advertising. Digital ad spend rose by 20% in the third quarter of 2014 – up from 17% the previous year – and Mathieu expects it to continue.

“Digital is getting to amazing levels in Finland and the Nordics, it has reached over 50% of total media investment there,” added Mathieu. “It is allowing us to be more personal with our customer and is a driving area for us – I’d expect digital spend to go up further in 2015.”

He also hinted that Unilever could start to embrace virtual reality technology.

“Platforms like Oculus Rift once mainstream will render experiences into people’s lives which will certainly impact the way we bring our brands alive and into consumers lives.”