Unilever Promotes Handwashing Campaign Message Using Rotis

unilever, lifebuoy, branding, cause branding, roti, India, Allahabad, lifebuoy soap, Kumbh Mela, A Christmas Story, Leon Kaye, diarrhea, Global Handwashing Day, corporate social responsibility
Did you wash your hands with Lifebuoy?

Mmm, roti. The king of South Asian unleavened flatbreads is a staple on the subcontinent, and of course, is ubiquitous in the best Indian neighborhoods from Artesia in Los Angeles to Singapore’s little India. And recently, these sublime carbohydrate bombs spread an important message about handwashing thanks to a Unilever campaign led by its timeless bar soap brand, Lifebuoy.

This literal “branding” campaign, sparked by both Lifebuoy and OglivyAction, took place during the recent Hindu festival known as the Kumbh Mela. This annual tradition sees millions of pilgrims take to cities such as Allahabad in order to purge away their sins in the Ganges. Allahabad was the scene of the tragic stampede on Sunday, which killed at least 36 people, and that tragedy dominated the headlines. But an important social message was passed on to those who gulped the 2.5 million rotis eaten during Kumbh Mela.

On each roti, the message, “Did you wash your hands with Lifebuoy?” was emblazoned – in Hindi, of course. Restaurants throughout Allahabad served the doughy goodness with the message, and banners and billboards also broadcast the question during the festival. Roti, after all, is to be eaten with your hands, so there was more than just product placement going on here–handwashing has become a serious part of Unilever’s corporate social responsibility agenda.

For Lifebuoy, this was perhaps one of the brand’s biggest moments since Ralphie on the classic holiday epic A Christmas Story had a bar of the garnet colored soap jammed in his mouth after he blurted out, “Oh, fudge” (only, that’s not what he really said). For Unilever and its Sustainable Living Plan, the roti stamping was not only about Lifebuoy sales, but about using its brands to enact social change. Some of us may take handwashing for granted, but where clean water and sanitation are scarce, and poverty exacts a daily toll, such a routine falls by the wayside.

To that end, Unilever has sponsored several programs related to handwashing, including its co-founding of Global Handwashing Day, which the company first launched in 2008. Unilever claims that since the campaign launched, the deaths of children who have died from diarrhea have fallen by half. Unfortunately, 3,000 children under the age of five die daily from diarrhea–but the simple act of handwashing can prevent that disease as well as pneumonia. Spreading an important message instead of disease, and no annoying wrappers left behind? Truly this is a cause branding campaign that rises to the occasion.

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable BrandsInhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost). He will explore children’s health issues in India, February 16-27, with the International Reporting Project.

[Image credit: India Times]

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

6 responses

  1. Dr. Will Sawyer and the Henry the Hand Foundation are dedicated to teaching people about the 4 Principles of Hand Awareness, which is proper hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and cross contamination awareness and have been endorsed by the AMA and AAFP. To learn more visit the website http://www.henrythehand.com

  2. I wonder what CSR really means. Is it saying “Did you wash your hands with Lifebuoy” or saying “Did you wash your hands before eating”? The answer to it lies in the response Unilever would give to the question – “Would you still do it if you were not allowed to use the brand name – Lifebuoy?” !

  3. It would be a serious mistake to “take hand-washing for granted” no matter how much soap and water are available. I travel on business often and have occasion to use many more public men’s rooms than I care to think about.
    I can tell you that roughly 50% of ALL men leave the facilities without washing, whether they have been at the urinals or in the stalls. This is true regardless of age, race or how they are dressed. It’s disgusting.

  4. This is good, but, in my mind India is probably a lower priority place to emphasize hand washing.
    Indians, and Hindus in particular, wash hands before and after eating. They also rinse out their mouths after eating (sometimes I, being an Indian, get frowns from my American colleagues about the rinsing out). Any dentist will tell you that rinsing out with plain water is a good practice.
    Yes, the poverty stricken population in India is not so particular about washing hands.
    Hand washing really needs to be promoted in the US and Europe.
    I have seen men (in particular), like someone else mentioned, walk out of the restroom without washing hands after urinating. As many as 50%…that is a good number.
    And, then you see one now and then that walk out of the stall straight out into the free world.
    That is why I always wash my hands after shaking hands with men.

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