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Businessworld | February 26, 2005

Hindustan Lever Ltd, India's best known multinational, will soon be moving to a new corporate identity.

According to a news story in the latest issue of Businessworld, on the anvil is a new name as well as a corporate logo -- as mandated by Unilever.

It isn't easy to shake off nearly half a century of local heritage at one go. That's what the marketing honchos at Unilever and HLL [Get Quote] are finding out.

A special project team working in the chairman's office, led by Lever manager Sonia Singh, is putting the finishing touches to the new identity. If sources are to be believed, HLL could now be re-branded as HUL (Hindustan Unilever Ltd).

HLL's national management committee will take a final decision in about a month's time, before it is placed for approval before shareholders at the next HLL annual general meeting in June. The official HLL spokesman declined to comment.

The identity changes at HLL are driven by Unilever's attempt to create a uniform corporate brand across the world. On February 12, 2004, Unilever had rolled out a new corporate brand in line with its future direction.

Since then, almost all the Unilever subsidiaries have moved to the new identity, which consists of the Unilever brand followed by the name of the country (e.g. Unilever Japan).

In India, managing the switch will be far from easy. Hindustan Lever has had a decades old heritage in India. Lever Brothers began operating in India way back in 1933 and HLL came into being in 1956.

Since then, HLL always had very strong local roots and was rarely looked upon as a multinational. Right from the late 1950s, several local stalwarts like Prakash Tandon, T Thomas, AS Ganguly and SM Datta went on to head the company. Even brands like Lifebuoy, Surf and Lux have been household names for a long time.

Interestingly, this strong local association has emerged in extensive consumer research that has done over the past few months. Research shows that the name 'Hindustan' is very strongly etched in consumer memory.

Managers at HLL say they prefer to preserve that heritage. "We are keen to leverage that equity," says a HLL manager, on conditions of anonymity.

Three options have been shortlisted for the new name: Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), Unilever Hindustan Ltd and finally, Unilever India. So far, the first option -- HUL -- seems the most likely.

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