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Brands back Swachh Bharat

News, 14 January 2016

NEW DELHI: Brands need to have a long-term commitment to Swachh Bharat, the Indian government's campaign to clean up the country, according to the head of Hindustan Unilever (HUL).

Sanjiv Mehta, managing director and CEO, pointed out to the Economic Times that in the US it had taken twenty years for a similar campaign to bring about change. "We need to stay invested in this cause to be able to bring change in India on a mass scale," he said.

The newspaper noted that marketers have long dallied with such causes, having neither the budget nor the commitment to see them through to the end; and in any case there may not be a clear end in sight.

Or the end may be rather more cynical. Last year the Indian Confederation of NGOs accused agencies and brands of developing campaigns to help disadvantaged people in India purely with an eye to winning advertising industry awards; it noted a tendency for such campaigns to end around the same time as the awards season finishes.

HUL, however, has integrated social responsibility into the conduct of its business, Mehta explained. Involvement with something like Swachh Bharat is therefore "in sync with the essence of the brand and not something superimposed or done as an afterthought".

"That's where [brand] purpose becomes important," he added. "If it's not linked, it then depends on the whims and fancies of a CEO or marketing head."

Its current Haath Munh aur Bum, Bimari Hogi Kum campaign, focused on how hand washing, safe drinking water and the use of toilets can help prevent illness, joins those of other FMCG businesses, including Reckitt Benckiser and Dabur, in helping drive the government agenda.

These are not of course purely altruistic campaigns, as all involved will expect to see product sales increase as a result.

The Economic Times highlighted some of the difficulties the wider Swachh Bharat faces. "There's a yawning chasm between personal hygiene and a clean country, where our rivers and outdoors are not choked with trash," it said.

And brands do not appear to be rushing to tackle those particular problems.

Data sourced from Economic Times; additional content by Warc staff