Unilever’s global media innovation chief Jay Altschuler on what the Internet of Things means for brands

The phrase the Internet of Things has moved beyond hype alone and has been a key theme at this year's Mobile World Congress and Unilever’s global media innovation director Jay Altschuler believes it could lead to interesting opportunities for brands.

Speaking to The Drum at the conference in Barcelona, Altschuler said the connected world is of “huge interest” to the FMCG giant.

“That’s not to say that for example opening my refrigerator in the morning and seeing an ad for Knorrs soup, is necessarily the right expression for that but there are signals that we can start to learn from that from an insight perspective - understanding people and consumer behaviour and patterns, from which we can infer motivation,” he said.

Altschuler said there may also be a way in which these connected devices can change the traditional path to purchase. “You can imagine a world where you would buy a smart washer dryer which can pre-order Persil for example. Then there are subscriptions that go around that – and that also creates a different dynamic between our washing powders and consumers.

“Then if this washer is smart and knows what’s in there – what type of clothes there are inside and how old it is – we can then start to develop smart products to match the smart hardware,” he added.

Mobile World Congress was full of connected devices, from wearable technology to connected cars and toothbrushes, the latter displayed at the conference by P&G.

“It’s all the same test of concept – how devices can become smart and the implications of what companies like us can do in terms of the product itself and our overall understanding of the people we serve and how we can develop a better engagement model with them,” said Altschuler.

His comments came as Unilever’s brands congregated at Mobile World Congress to push forward the final stage of choosing digital start-up partners for its Go Global initiative.

The digital incubator scheme, which kicked off last December, will see it pair its brands – including Magnum, Flora and Surf – with digital marketing start-ups in exchange for financial and mentorship support.

“We thought Mobile World Congress was a great forum to do this so we put an open submission out there against specific brand briefs and challenges, and have had our brands looking at submissions and have whittled down to 14 finalists. As we speak our brands are sitting with these start-ups now going through the briefing process," he told The Drum.

“We always want to match the ambitions of the people we serve, which is why we are reaching out to these start-ups that are on the bleeding edge and understands where the future is headed. We want to have a dialogue with them to help us brands solve very specific problems like using mobile and social and location to better engage who we serve."

The details on the winning start-ups will be released next week.

Last November, Altschuler described mobile as the "connective tissue" that binds all campaigns together.

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