The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Message with a healthy cause
- Marketing hygiene through community projects, class lectures

6Hygiene is important, but we barely manage one meal a day, so how can we afford to do everything required to look after our health'

4It doesn’t cost much to protect yourself against diseases. It’s all about basic hygiene, which can be the difference between life and death.

6Buying medicines nowadays is too expensive.

4Prevention is better than cure, my friend.

A debate between a villager and a schoolteacher about the effectiveness of propagating health-and-hygiene awareness in villages. The teacher was excited about the campaign to educate children, “while they are still young”, but the villager was worried about “filling their heads with nonsense”.

“Brush your teeth twice a day, otherwise you might get cavities. Wash your hands with soap before and after you eat and keep food covered, or else you might contract illnesses, like diarrhoea. Bathe with a soap, failing which, you might get skin infections like rashes.”

That was the message being imparted to a bunch of kids in the local school in Amboula village, beyond Barasat. Those spreading the word aren’t NGOs, but Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL), with their soap brand Lifebuoy, in partnership with Ogilvy and Mather public relations, through their outreach programme. What it boils down to is smart marketing, linked to a message that matters.

These children were not aware of these basic norms of prevention. After a story, cleverly told through the life of ‘Ramu’, a boy in the neighbouring village, and a swift demonstration of the existence of germs in improperly-washed hands, the rapt audience was convinced. Tuku Karmakar, a student of Class IX, won the “most neat and clean person” badge. “I will definitely teach my younger brothers and sisters the same lessons, and I will myself follow the guidelines as far as possible,” she said.

This concept of marketing through community projects, with lower-income groups as the target, is not new. It was started way back in 1994, and officially recognised in 1998. The Lifebuoy Swasthya Chetna project was launched in February this year, and after some successful pilot projects in other states, it came to West Bengal in March. It is only one project for one brand, and its target figure here is over 1,100 villages. The concept has, in fact, been internationally implemented in about 10 countries.

The Lifebuoy project works in two phases. A health development officer (HDO) and health development assistant (HDA) go from village to village and school to school, educating the community through lectures in classrooms, community meetings, a ‘michhil’ by the children and graffiti on walls by them as well.

In the next stage, the officers come back about two months later, with toys for children who have saved Lifebuoy soap wrappers, and medals and certificates for those children who have won the “most neat and clean person” badge most often.

“The concept caught on so well that at first we intended the badge for just one person, but the children decided to make that a rotating thing. It was a great motivator for them,” explained a member of the outreach programme. The prizes are given out at a function organised by the children for the community, with health and hygiene awareness as the aim.

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