Dave Trott: Doing well by doing good

In the third world, 2 million children die each year from diarrhoea and pneumonia.

But we have a treatment that could save 600,000 young lives.

Is it complicated, is it expensive, is it rare?

Nope, it’s a bar of soap.

It can cut diarrhoea by half and pneumonia by a third.

If we could get everyone to wash their hands when they use the toilet.

So why don’t third world governments prioritise that message?

Well they have too many urgent calls on their limited resources: epidemics and pandemics.

Real behavioural change takes constant communication, constant reminding, day-in day-out.

Who has that amount of money plus that degree of incentive?

The answer may surprise you.

It isn’t the governments and it isn’t charities.

It’s the soap companies.

The people who make soap have an incentive to get people to buy soap, and to use more soap.

More importantly they have the money for constant communication to create real behavioural change.

It’s called advertising.

What advertising does is transform scientific facts into compelling messages.

It makes people buy things, it makes people use things.

This is what these governments want but don’t have the money for.

It’s what Unicef, Oxfam, and Save The Children want, but they don’t have the money either.

So they’ve partnered with Unilever, who make soap.

They all want the same thing: to sell more soap.

But not just to sell soap.

Research shows that families in Asia have soap, but they keep it in a cupboard.

They use it for bathing, or for laundry, or for the dishes.

They need educating about regular hand washing with soap.

Making people use more soap more often is in everyone’s interest.

A spokesperson said, "Big business is doing what governments can’t. The profit motive is transforming health outcomes. Business has grown by double-digits while child mortality has fallen in all the places where soap use has increased. It reduces deaths from diarrhoea by 45 per cent, deaths from pneumonia by 23 per cent, and school absenteeism by up to 50 per cent".

This is basic behavioural economics: set the game up so that people make money by doing good.
The spokesperson said, "It may be uncomfortable for some people to hear the words ‘business growth’ and ‘lives saved’ in the same sentence. But without that business growth we cannot achieve the change we need".

Unilever is uniquely placed to do this. In 1895 they launched Lifebuoy Soap to combat the cholera that was sweeping Victorian England.

Today they are using Lifebuoy Soap to combat cholera in Ghana.

Advertising makes people understand the need to regularly wash their hands with soap.

The more people understand, the more soap they use.

The more soap they use, the more lives are saved.

When you set the game up right, it works for everyone.


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