Research shows that only one out of ten Kenyans wash their hands after visiting the toilet. As a result, Kenya loses 30,000 children every year to diarrhoea and respiratory infections which can be prevented by the simple act of handwashing with soap.

In Kenya, Lifebuoy soap had an image it has been trying to drop for years – the soap for hardworking men, driven by its association with the old red masculine bar with a distinctive perfume, and 1980s TV advertisements featuring a man coming from a hard day at work and using Lifebuoy to freshen up. In 2007, Unilever reformulated Lifebuoy as a health soap, but failed to connect with its core consumers – mothers with children aged 5-12.

Unilever challenged Apex Communications to develop a bold PR-led campaign to really engage consumers. The agency worked with Unilever’s marketing team to re-launch Lifebuoy in Kenya by creatively tying it to the brand’s Global Social Mission: ‘to bring safety, security and health to 5 billion people around the world through the promotion of hand washing with soap’. Lifebuoy already conducts extensive handwashing promotion activitiesacross Asia.

The objectives of the Surprisingly Lifebuoy campaign were:
• Generate high-profile consumer media coverage
• Raise awareness of the New Lifebuoy soap
• Raise awareness of Lifebuoy’s social mission around handwashing in Kenya

Strategy and Plan

Apex identified six professional associations to work with to promote the practice of handwashing: The Kenya Association of Physicians; National Nursing Association of Kenya; Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers; Kenya Private Schools Association; Kenya Paediatrics Association and the Association of Public Health Officers.

These key influencers were invited to join an Alliance for the Promotion of Handwashing with Soap to complement Government efforts towards encouraging the adoption of the hand washing practice in Kenya as a routine habit. The Alliance was launched in June 2010 by a senior official from the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation.

The team promoted Alliance activities throughout the year, including launching the Clean Hands Study, spearheaded by the Alliance for the Promotion of Handwashing with Soap, which looked at the germs found on office equipment such as computers, phones, doors, and lifts.

The launch was attended by 67 guests including 40 journalists. Alliance members visited schools to educate school going children on the importance of handwashing, did media interviews, visited the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation and worked with the national technical working group for handwashing.

To launch the Surprisingly True campaign to the media, the team created invitations that did not reveal the product, which were delivered by models dressed in Lifebuoy colours. The breakfast launch was attended by 105 guests, including 46 journalists. On arrival at a hotel in Nairobi, guests took the Clean Hands test, where they placed their hands in a machine that showed the germs on their hands. An alliance member from the National Nursing Association of Kenya explained the importance of handwashing. After breakfast, it was revealed that the event was to relaunch Lifebuoy. The key themes were: Lifebuoy as a leader in innovation; the Lifebuoy comeback; Lifebuoy’s new message – ‘Handwashing with soap saves lives’.

Apex organised a health symposium hosted by the Alliance and Unilever, as part of its Lifebuoy social mission. The symposium was attended by public health and education ministers and organisations such as the Water and Sanitation Programme of the World Bank and UNICEF, which are already working with the National Steering Committee that promotes hand washing with soap in Kenya. A total of 75 stakeholders reviewed the progress of the national handwashing campaign, and looked at how professional associations and the private sector could play a part.

Lifebuoy brand ambassador, South African musician Yvonne Chaka Chaka, attended the symposium as part of her planned three day visit to Kenya. She also made a courtesy call to the Minister of Public Health to help place the hand washing issue on Government’s agenda, did media interviews (yielding 47 pieces of coverage), and visited schools to demonstrate hand washing techniques to children and teachers.

On Global Handwashing Day in September, Apex secured Ecotact Limited as a partner to attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the most number of people handwashing at a single location. Children from 20 schools took part in the event, and a total of 19,335 people washed their hands. The event was covered by 15 media outlets and was positioned as supporting the government’s efforts to increase awareness of the vital habit of handwashing with soap.

Results and Outcomes

The Surprisingly Lifebuoy campaign succeeded in repositioning Lifebuoy as a health soap by creating a link with its Global Social Mission and working with key influencers to drive the key message that handwashing with soap saves lives. As a result, the brand has grown by over 200% in volume and gained 4% market share in the health soap category, just five months after being relaunched.

The campaign generated a total of 136 articles in the print, electronic and online media between June and October 2010: an average of one story a day for the entire period. There was no negative coverage. In June alone, there were 80 pieces of coverage (19 print, 30 radio, 21 TV, 10 online). The coverage communicated the key messages: 63% mentioned Lifebuoy, 85% included the importance of hand-washing, relating it to Lifebuoy soap, and28% included the Lifebuoy Social Mission.

Perception surveys among key media and the target audiences show that the central theme of handwashing with soap was successfully communicated, and there is now a strong association between Lifebuoy and handwashing. Journalists also expressed confidence in seeking comments from Alliance members on handwashing issue. This gives Lifebuoy an opportunity to leverage the reputation and goodwill created by the campaign to differentiate itself and drive its Global Social Mission in Kenya and East Africa.

By creatively linking handwashing, a key health issue in Kenya, with Lifebuoy, the campaign gained support from the Government through the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation and the Ministry of Education. Lifebuoy is now invited to participatein key hygiene forums and to contribute to events such as Global Handwashing Day.

It has also been confirmed that the team has set a new Guinness World Record for most people washing hands at one place, beating the previous total of just over 15,000 people.

Unilever Category Manager Susan Njagah said: ‘We are very impressed with the quantity and quality of coverage we received with the media launch. Well Done Team Apex! Looking forward to even greater things as we go into the next phase!’