At LETO, there’s nothing we love more than a challenge. So when the chance came of participating in the London’s Re.Hack Unilever hackathon, in August 2014, it was a pleasure to be invited. We had worked with Unilever’s e-commerce team before: as an ideas-generating agency, they liked our youthful, creative spirit and so urged us to get involved.

The experience was massively positive. Not only did we win it (the senior judges had no knowledge that we had a connection with Unilever and their verdict was totally impartial), but we showed our ability to generate strong ideas that answered a business need. Sometimes it’s vital to be bold – even when it feels scary.

The Context

Hackathons developed out of Silicon Valley: lots of companies use them to get a new perspective on their needs and and an innovative solution an internal team wouldn’t think of. Hackathons (usually run for 2 days overnight) are best described as an intensive hot-house brainstorm, followed by rapid product development. There’s a competitive element, too: each team tries their hardest in an effort to outdo each other in creativity or technological knowhow. The key to it all is innovation in its purest sense: developing a new product that enables technology to better answer customers’ needs.

In this case, Unilever gave us a loose brief before the first day: how do we influence the purchasing decisions of a personal care shopper to buy Unilever products before they reach a store? We played around with a number of ideas. Central to our thinking were two priorities: firstly (obviously), we wanted to develop a cool product; secondly, we wanted to create a solution that answered a business need and, in so doing, sold more Unilever products. Another thing: majority of personal care buyers are women.

The Vision

Here was our successful pitch, with ‘you’ being the potential user:

You approach a mirror, as usual, to check how you look. It looks like a normal, high-end mirror; however, it’s ‘smart’ (a few of the global companies like Panasonic presented their ‘smart mirrors’ in 2015 and 2016, but back in 2014 nothing like that existed at all!). It’s linked to your calendar and shopping preferences and using face-recognition software (which we built couple years earlier), it greets the user. A typical greeting would be ‘Hi there, how are you? I can see by your diary that you have a date in two hours’ time. Would you like to try out different hairstyles?’

‘If you say ‘yes’ then the smart mirror offers a selection of three different hairstyle videos (pulled from Unilever’s YouTube channel ‘All Things Hair’). You select one and the video plays. The prime benefit here is that the mirror and the tutorial video are in one place: rather than having to glance between the mirror and your phone/tablet/laptop, when watching a tutorial, you can see it in front of, at eye-level. It’s all a whole lot easier.

This video then leads to showing how Unilever products can best answer your haircare needs. For example, it might end, ‘For better results, you might like to use TRESemmé Get Sleek Creation Hairspray. Would you like to add this to your basket?’

This interaction between the user’s needs and the mirror is deepened when, without the smart mirror having to draw on her diary, the user voluntarily states their own needs. For example, you might want a tutorial on a certain area, such as applying eye-liner or lip-gloss, so you can ask for that. You might run out of toothpaste, so you can ask that your favourite brand is put into your shopping basket.

The high-end mirror incorporates voice-recognition technology. This will allow the user to choose from a number of options. They can pause the video, search for various forms of content, check for the weather, their social and news feed, and access their shopping basket. It thus not only behaves as a mirror, but has much of the functionality of a tablet, or even your personal care assistant.

The essence of our idea was that the mirror becomes a guide, a tutor, a shopping basket and, above all else, a valued assistant – helping the user in a number of daily decisions regarding personal care.

Of approximately 20 teams, our solution was judged the best. In short: we showed that we can generate greats, business-enabling ideas on our own. The product is now in development with Unilever.

However, it wasn’t just about developing a new product: it was about developing a new marketing position, too. We took the Unilever brand and introduced a premium product, in the same way that Nescafé introduced Nespresso as its premium coffee range. It was this ability to think flexibly, and creatively, that the judges really picked up on.

The judges included Marc Mathieu, SVP Marketing; Keith Higgins, SVP eCommerce; Joey Kau, Global eCommerce Director, Personal Care; Harry Messeger, Digital Planning Manager, PC & Europe; Philip Long, Director of IT Sustainability; Joe Comiskey, Lead Innovation and Strategy Manager, eCommerce; Eric Lafleche, Lead IT Innovation Manager, eCommerce;

Watch a video from the event (and spot us!):


“The winner really stood out. They looked at the brief and asked: ‘how can we deliver this back to Unilever?’ They created an ecosystem that could be developed across the whole of the organisation – not just the personal care category.”

by Philip Long, Director of IT Sustainability at Unilever.

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