India has tackled its sanitation issues by constructing 100 million new toilets over the past five years; Harpic has tackled behavioural issues by persuading people to actually use them.

It’s been a long road for the market-leading toilet cleaning brand, acknowledged Sukhleen Aneja, Reckitt Benckiser’s South Asia CMO for Hygiene Home. She told a recent Mumbai conference that marketers’ roles don’t just stop at creating communication – they have the biggest role to play in driving meaningful conversations.

Harpic had aligned itself with the sixth goal in the United Nations’ ‘17 Goals for Sustainable Development’ list – clean water and sanitation, but it wasn’t until 2014’s ‘Swachh Bharat’ (Clean India) initiative came to the fore that it decided to take the mission forward.

However, it became increasingly apparent that infrastructure would not solve India’s largest sanitation challenge: toilets that were created soon became shops and storage spaces while people continued to defecate in the open as they regarded toilets as unclean.

Culturally, a toilet is ‘pariah’ and to be kept away from the house. “A physical distance in the space creates a difference in hearts and minds as well,” Aneja said.

A simple functional message wasn’t going to be enough; unless the brand became ‘relevant’ to consumers’ lives, they wouldn’t start using the toilet and see how it could be kept clean. (For more details, read WARC’s report: How Harpic achieved its purpose of making India ‘toilet proud’.)

Relevance arrived in the unlikely form of Bollywood and a 2017 film, ‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha’, which addressed the sanitary and safety challenges women face when they defecate in the open. In 2018, Harpic partnered with star Akshay Kumar as its brand ambassador, who featured in the brand’s doorstep challenge ads.

Subsequent campaigns took the message to rural India, with outspoken actress Swara Bhaskar featuring as a new bride educating her mother-in-law about using Harpic to have a truly clean toilet, and sought to normalise the use of the word ‘toilet’.

“To actually drive behavioural change, a brand must seep into popular culture," Aneja said, pointing to the role of social proof in good behaviour for progress, while the alternative is social shaming.

In her experience, India has recognised the positive benefits of progress, health and feeling great at adopting a good habit. All of this has worked much better than shaming.

Sourced from WARC