Access to clean water, proper sanitation and effective hygiene education is a fundamental human right that can greatly reduce mortality rates and lead to improved health indicators, development and poverty reduction. As part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the UN aims to cut the amount of people without access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation in half  by 2015 . In 2010 the initial target was reached, five years prior to the desired goal. This initial success is due in part to many efforts in both the private and public sectors through the implementation of effective water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs that advance knowledge and promote changes in behavior. One such method that has had a large effect toward achieving the MDG’s in the area of WASH is the use of sanitation marketing.

Within the field of social marketing there remains a debate over how to define sanitation marketing. Some experts argue that the technique is a tool that advances the supply and demand of sanitation tools through capacity building of the local private sector. It is also known as an approach of selling sanitation through the mechanism of commercial marketing tools that inspire populations to improve their cleanliness habits.

As formative research continues to be applied to sanitation marketing, an essential finding that contributes to the practice’s success is the ability for the implementers to comprehend the products the target population desires and the prices they are willing to pay. This guarantees that products are bought and used. In the past, programs that have provided sanitation at subsidized prices have been extremely limited. A subsidy-driven approach in Maharashtra, India failed because the ‘success’ in building 1.5 million toilets led to abandonment and misuse. With a marketing approach, sanitation only goes to the buyers, which aids in guaranteeing that consumers will appreciate and grasp its value.

WASH products are often promoted through various mediums, which include billboard advertising, pamphlet distributions, radio, television and educational demonstrations. An effective method in sanitation marketing is the use of branding advertising and promotion. This technique provides an awareness of a specific product and helps to standardize certain behaviors while promoting societal change. These strategies aim to inform potential customers and advance their interests in purchasing the product.

In Cambodia, the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), International Development Enterprises (IDE) and a design firm IDEO collaborated to develop a low-cost and simple “latrine core” that would offer the benefits of a pour-flush but cost half of the normal price due to improved production methods. The team branded the device as “Easy Latrine” and makes the merchandise available through local producers who are trained in WASH education, production and business and advertising management. What also contributes to advancements in product consumption is the ease with which a buyer can make a purchase. A customer has the ability to approach the seller and have the toilet home delivered and constructed in the same day. Historically, buying a latrine involved a much more strenuous and lengthy process.

In 2010 “Easy Latrine” was named “Best in Show” at the International Design Excellence Award as a result of its successful integration into local level WASH campaigns due to its social marketing schemes.

Although much progress has been made in the area of WASH programming due to sanitation marketing, there still remains work to be accomplished. According to a report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), 780 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5-billion lack access to adequate sanitation. In order to effectively combat the lack of access to WASH information and technologies, more countries and organizations need to adopt a marketing approach to ensure continued sustainability of its programs and improved health.

– Talia Langman

Sources: Center for Disease Control and Prevention, IDE Cambodia, United Nations, UN Water, Water and Sanitation Program
Photo: Rogerseller