Thursday, July 17, 2008

Locking in a habit

…According to a story by Charles Duhigg, NYT, July 13, 2008, an anthropologist named Val Curtis, now director of the Hygiene Center at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, had spent years trying to get people in the developing world to wash their hands with soap.

…Turns out, soap is a hard sell.

…So she turned to some big companies to teach her how to make people like soap just like these companies made them like Pringles and Speed Stick.

…Look at toothbrushing, Curtis says—this was made into a habit. Relentless advertising does this.

…Yet some developing world ad campaigns were having the opposite effect than the one desired. Antidrug messages reminded people of the weed in the drawer, condom ads made them think of sex.

…To promote the handwashing, Curtis lassoed in Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Unilever. Ghana was the target country.

…In Ghana, half the people already washed after using the restroom or before eating—but they didn’t use soap.

…Mothers didn’t see deadly diseases like deadly diarrhea in their kids as related to cleanliness. And many did use soap when something disgusting was on their hands. By the same token, though, they didn’t want to associate their kids with something disgusting.

…Paradoxically, the toilet was not an object of disgust—it was better than the privy.

…So the ads showed mothers and kids leaving the john with weird purple stuff on their hands and contaminating everything they touched. They sold disgust—but soon soap began to sell, too.

…Now, 13% more people there use soap. Soap before eating—up 41%.

…They say do something for 3 weeks and it becomes a habit. And not just in Ghana.

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