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Lifebuoy's campaign to encourage better hygiene habits came to the fore in a year of pandemic, but success now hinges on the message resonating with children, according to Kartik Chandrasekhar, global brand vice president for Lifebuoy.

The brand launched its handwashing initiative with the UK government earlier this year to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. Chandrasekhar gives The Drum an update on the progress globally, as well as an inside look at the new ‘H for Handwashing’ initiative to accelerate handwashing behaviour change among children.

On Global Handwashing Day on 15 October, Lifebuoy launched the €30million H for Handwashing, a multi-year initiative built on the premise that effective behaviour change must start at an early age.

Chandrasekhar says the brand took inspiration from UNICEF’s early childhood development research, which demonstrates that the right support and interventions in the early years of life can significantly boost child development, helping them to grow, learn and thrive.

“The H for Handwashing movement is kicking off with a focus on the alphabet. Lifebuoy is exploring how children are taught letters of the alphabet through simple associations with everyday references such as ‘A’ for apple, ‘B’ for ball and ‘C’ for cat. Inspired by how children learn their A, B, C, Lifebuoy will reimagine how the letter H is taught by advocating that H stands for Handwashing. In the longer term, our ambition is to advocate for greater emphasis on hand hygiene education in schools and this is already underway,” he explains.

In order to reach children effectively, the brand has had to partner with governments. This has included the New Delhi government in India to encourage pre-schoolers across 10,000 health learning centres to wash hands with soap. Likewise,  in South Africa the brand has signed a declaration of intent with the Ministry of Education and UNICEF, committing to drive hygiene behaviour change in schools. While in Indonesia and the UK, conversations are underway to ensure H for Handwashing becomes part of the syllabus of what schoolchildren learn in schools

He adds: “We’re excited about this multi-year movement, which is primarily aimed at pre-school, primary school children and adolescents (spanning ages 2-17), and will involve co-creating programmes with education, health, humanitarian and behaviour change experts to integrate good hygiene practices.”

The Unilever-owned brand has a long-term projection for the initiative and is working with Save The Children and Sesame Workshop to create and engage children with premium educational content around hygiene. It hopes H for Handwashing will be a potential game-changer, which is why it is investing in hygiene education at an early age when habits are easily ingrained and formed.

While Unilever has pulled spend from social platforms like Facebook and Twitter in recent times, Chandrasekhar says Lifebuoy still needed to communicate quickly its public service announcements (PSA) and its handwashing initiative from the start of the pandemic through digital and mass media like TV.

He explains the brands’ platform selection is dictated by the needs, trends and culture of its target audiences in each country because reinforcement is a critical element to consumer behaviour change, and Lifebuoy needed to consistently remind and refresh the safe hygiene messages.

In Vietnam and Indonesia, for example, communications leaned heavily on popular and trending culture through contemporary messages; so, Facebook and TikTok were channels where its core audiences were best reached and engaged.

In India, he says hand hygiene messaging is mostly centred on educational content targeted at families and children about how soap kills germs, so TV became Lifebuoy’s main platform to drive mass reach.

“At the start of the pandemic, we knew through our years of experience on hand hygiene behaviour change that delivering handwashing information can be mundane. So, to drive more impact, we worked to make the messages and content memorable and fun through dance and music, such as the #DoTheLifebuoy campaign,” explains Chandrasekhar.

“We created customised pop music tracks and fun dance steps that teach proper handwashing steps which were fronted by 300 social media influencers in over 13 countries. This ensured that handwashing remained top of mind. The efforts achieved 50bn impressions on TikTok.”

He continues: “As we know, many people view content at home, especially when countries are still in, or just coming out of, lockdown situations. So, we also extended our hygiene messages in the broadcast sporting arena through innovative partnerships with the cricket team under the Indian Premier League and with McLaren Racing.”

In the second quarter of 2020, Lifebuoy expanded across 55 new markets in 100 days to meet the growing demand for hand hygiene products.

Hand sanitizers have historically been a small part of its business, but with the outbreak of the pandemic came the need to maintain good hygiene practices both at home as well as outside of the home. While the brand’s focus has been primarily at the home, the expansion of sanitizers to over 50 factories and 60 markets ensured it was able to cater to out of home occasions as well.