In producing ACF’s fourth year annual report (watch this space – it’s coming very soon), one of the things that has struck me is the focus that ACF has had on marketing of toilets, particularly exemplified by the project in Antananarivo.
It may seem odd, but marketing of toilets can be incredibly important in a low-income urban setting, because providing a product for which there is no demand is not the way to conduct a sustainable project and there is often little demand for improved sanitation initially. This is for several reasons, including high cost (perceived or actual), whereas many may be comfortable with open defecation/flying toilets, with no attached cost (at least at the point of use; medical costs arising from poor sanitation are unlikely to be known); and lack of knowledge on hygiene/cleanliness and their link to health. For all technological advances made, if there is no demand, the product cannot help anyone.
A sanitation marketer may initially assume that health is the key argument to use in convincing end-users to invest in sanitation. However, they may discover that other factors such as the prestige and improved status of having a new, clean toilet is more valuable to end-users and more likely to result in maintenance and cleaning of the toilet after investment.
Indeed, in a study in Benin, Jenkins & Curtis (2005) found that ‘at least one active drive… is needed to motivate latrine adoption. Drives involved prestige, well-being and situational goals. Health considerations played only a minor role’. Hence, any successful sanitation project must conduct serious research regarding what might motivate people to invest in their own toilet and develop marketing techniques accordingly.
In Antananarivo, the team has employed a multi-pronged advertising approach with advertisements on stickers, flyers and posters adorning product outlets, bus stops and buses and even a mobile advertising car. Schools and churches have been brought on board to teach and preach the messages. A famous artist, Francis Turbo, headed up the initial campaign, bringing out the idea of prestige in toilet ownership.
Advertising alone is generally insufficient to ensure commitment to purchasing or upgrading toilets, which is significantly more common where household visits were conducted. A carefully targeted explanation of the benefits of toilet ownership is more important to behaviour change than a widely dispersed message.
Finance has been a common problem, with toilets being difficult to afford for many, and this can be off-putting, but demand for improvements in sanitation at the household level has been rising. Some households have requested longer periods to repay the loan, suggesting that the advertising campaign is having success, but affordability needs to be addressed. The team is currently learning from other similar loan funds to see how they can assist the very poorest households.
Jenkins and Curtis (2005) Achieving the ‘good life’: Why some people want latrines in rural Benin. Social Science & Medicine, 61: 2446–2459.