Behaviour change at scale

Effective products, and understanding what triggers consumers to change their daily habits, lies at the heart of making sustainable improvements to hygiene – and driving growth for our business.

A track record of innovation

Already in Victorian England, back in the 1880s, Lifebuoy was offering affordable, ‘germ-kill' soap and promoting the benefits of handwashing, to make cleanliness commonplace at a time of cholera outbreaks. Charts to encourage and record handwashing with soap before eating and after using the toilet were part of Lifebuoy’s activity some 120 years ago, and they are still used as part of our programmes today.

New Lifebuoy combats a wide range of germs

Washing hands with soap is still acknowledged as one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent disease. Each year, germs become stronger, causing illnesses to become more severe and harder to treat. To combat this, in 2013 we launched a new soap with Activ Naturol ShieldTM that provides superior efficacy against a wide range of germs.

Now every Lifebuoy bar contains Activ Naturol ShieldTM. This not only provides better antimicrobial efficacy against ‘gram negative’ bacteria - which cause stomach and respiratory infections - but also against ‘gram positive’ bacteria, which cause skin and eye infections. We achieved this innovation by combining the soap’s base with synergised, naturally derived ingredients. But our real breakthrough was finding a way to include these highly effective ingredients in a soap that is both pleasant to use and affordable.

Our new Lifebuoy soap is available in South Asia, South East Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It has contributed to continued overall double digit growth for Lifebuoy over 2011-2015 and has helped to sustain the brand’s position as the world’s number one selling health soap. Lifebuoy is also the only soap to be accredited by the Royal Society of Public Health, London.

Our five principles for change

Alongside our history of innovation, we have decades of experience in running extensive handwashing and toothbrushing programmes through our Lifebuoy and Signal brands. This has helped us to devise a methodology that aims to achieve sustained behaviour change. Our Unilever Five Levers for Change pulls together internal and external behaviour change expertise into a consistent approach to addressing behaviour change challenges. When applied to behaviour change interventions, this approach maximises our ability to have a positive and lasting impact on habits.

Using our Five Levers to improve handwashing

We wanted to find ways to encourage people to use soap at the five key occasions that have the biggest public health impact: when washing hands after going to the toilet, before breakfast, lunch and dinner and while having a bath.

We conducted research to understand current habits, the barriers which hold people back from handwashing with soap, the triggers which could motivate people to wash hands with soap more often, and the motivators which could sustain the habit over time. The Five Levers helped us to further develop Lifebuoy’s handwashing programme.

Lever 1 Make it understood: Visibly clean is not necessarily clean

Many people wash their hands with water alone and believe that if hands look clean, they are clean. To challenge this belief and habit, one of the important elements of Lifebuoy’s behaviour-change approach is the ‘glo-germ’ demonstration. This counters the common misconception that ‘visibly clean’ is ‘hygienically clean’. When held under ultra-violet light, ‘glo-germ’ powder illuminates the germs left behind on hands washed only with water. Germs are only removed when hands are washed with soap. This makes it easy to understand that handwashing with soap provides greater protection against germs than washing with water alone.

Lever 2 Make it easy: School of 5 & mother and child interaction

For a new behaviour to be adopted it needs to be seen as ‘easy to do’ and to fit into daily life and routines. Lifebuoy’s School of 5 Programme makes the five occasions easy to remember through songs, comic book stories and the ‘five’ hand sign. The programme engages mothers and children because mothers play a crucial role in ensuring soap and water are readily available.

They also influence children by encouraging, rewarding and tracking ‘good behaviour’. With our school programmes, mothers track their child’s handwashing compliance on a daily sticker chart. This helps to reinforce the behaviour at home as well as in the classroom.

Lever 3 Make it desirable: Pledging

Studies show that people who commit to a future action in public are more likely to deliver on this commitment. Our school programme uses the Classroom Soap Pledge. Children pledge to wash their hands on the five key occasions for the duration of the programme. This is done in class so that positive peer pressure and teacher approval make the behaviour more likely to happen. Pledging is also an important part of Global Handwashing Day.

We use aspirational comic book characters in our school programmes and local celebrities in our campaigns to boost motivation. When well-known celebrities such as Sri Lanka’s cricketer Kumar Sangakkara or South African pop legend Yvonne Chaka and Bollywood actress Kajol in India emphasise the importance of handwashing with soap, people are encouraged to emulate the behaviour of people they admire.

Lever 4 Make it rewarding: Positive reinforcement

Lifebuoy understands the power of positive influences to motivate social change. Positive reinforcement runs throughout our school programme – a strong rewards system makes mothers and children feel good for taking positive steps in changing their habits. A person is more likely to practise a behaviour if they feel it will be rewarded.

Lever 5 Make it a habit: 21 days’ practice

Habits build up over time through repetitive behaviour. This is why motivating people to practise handwashing with soap for a minimum of 21 days is a critical element in our programmes. Our classroom materials – comic books, posters, quizzes and songs – all work over 21 days to embed the behaviour of washing hands at key occasions in daily routines. A 21-day compliance diary is also used to record behaviour over the course of the programme and participants are rewarded at the end.

Driving business results

Increasing frequency of handwashing increases soap consumption and drives growth. Consumers who know about our handwashing programme are more likely to be loyal to our brand and to recommend our brand to others.

Lifebuoy’s handwashing programme has driven a clear increase in soap consumption. In Uttar Pradesh in India, soap consumption grew by 11% after we implemented KKD, our rural community outreach programme. This compares to a 1% growth in soap consumption in a similar, neighbouring state where the programme was not run. Detailed studies in Kenya, Ghana and Indonesia using smart sensor microchips to track behaviour show that the programme drives both an increase in frequency of handwashing, and quality of handwashing, with more soap being used to wash hands thoroughly.

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