How Unilever Is Harnessing Its Brand and Consumer Know-How to Tackle Hygiene
Thursday, October 15, 2015
It’s one of the most cost effective public health interventions and it could prevent disease, death and also improve education outcomes, but the challenge for hand-washing is convincing people to actually do it. Unilever, a powerful global brand, is working both through its business and with partners to leverage the company’s skills to help tackle the issue, both because it will grow markets but also because there’s a clear moral case for doing so.
Water, sanitation and hygiene issues also impact other challenges including nutrition and education — clean water and improved sanitation can help reduce the hundreds of millions of days children miss of school due to diarrhea.
But often interventions in the WASH space have focused on improving infrastructure. India, for example, built many toilets, but without proper upkeep and education many sit unused and in disrepair.
Part of the challenge around behavior change is that it’s not just about improving knowledge, it’s about getting people to change their actions consistently. Consumer goods companies have a lot of experience thinking about and working to change behavior — it’s the way they convince a customer to purchase their product, after all. And it may well be why a company like Unilever can play a critical role.
Unilever’s Lifebuoy brand is perhaps one key example of how the company is weaving a social mission into the fabric of its business. The health soap has been around since 1894 and a social mission aimed at preventing illness has been ingrained in the brand since the start — it was initially developed to combat cholera.
Those working at Lifebuoy are not only measured against sales figures or market share, but also how they are tracking against its goal of improving the hand-washing behavior of 1 billion people in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America by 2020. So far Lifebuoy has changed the behavior of 250 million, according to Kartik Chandrasekhar, Lifebuoy global brand vice president.