Selling Soap and Brotherhood

October 28th, 2007 | 4 Comments »

“Why can’t you sell brotherhood like you can sell soap?”
– Gerhard Wiebe, 1952

Marketing is influence.

Marketing is about influencing people to buy things that benefit themselves, which also benefits the seller. Social marketing is about influencing people to do things that benefit themselves and the common good. Cause marketing is a hybrid, where for-profit companies connect with non-profits to increase sales to people who will spend money to support a good cause.

Marketing is about the benefit. The big question is, “What’s in it for me?”

Commercial marketing, cause marketing and social marketing are different types of marketing, but they are all based on the same ‘principles of influence’ and they are all about the benefit.

There is a benefit to brotherhood. Peace and prosperity are not just ideals. Because peace actually benefits the great majority of us, peace can be profitable. With the right marketing, peace has the potential to overcome war. Hear me out.

Soap diversity is driven by marketing.

Throughout history the unwashed masses went without, while a lucky few had access to soap made from animal or plant fats.

Synthesized chemical detergents, invented about 1920, allowed marketers to create new uses which encouraged new formulations. Now you can buy soap to clean your clothes, pets, dishes, floors, toilets, tile, car. You probably buy different soaps to clean your body – moisturizing for your face, shampoo for hair, liquid pump for hands, a fragrant gel for the bath…

The same year Wiebe wondered if marketing could be used to sell peace, detergent sales surpassed soap sales and today we can choose from thousands of cleansers for dozens of purposes.

Why do we choose the soap we use?

Count the number of soap products you have, and see how marketing has influenced you. People in the developing world do it all with bar soap or nothing, but those who can afford it commonly spend 10 percent of the household budget to buy 15 kinds of cleaning products.

Market-focused companies define customers, create a product to appeal to that target market, test and repeat. As a result, most people use a certain brand of soap for each purpose. You might choose a shampoo because it promises shine, your salon recommends it, your Mother used it, you like the packaging, or because it’s expensive and you’re worth it.

The product chooses you.

Marketing of any kind is informed by the social sciences, especially psychology, sociology and economics, relating to the creative arts through advertising. Social marketers use many commercial marketing tools, including audience segmentation, research and promotion.

The world market for soap is almost $100 billion, dominated by a few multinationals. In developed nations the market is soaked and growing slowly. The competitors cut prices or extend their brands by adding value to the basic product, such as liquid antibacterial soap in a pretty pump bottle. Convenience is one technique to influence consumers to buy. Health claims and a premium presentation create more reasons to buy. Those who blame antibacterial soap for the rise in super-staph infections will be offered the same product without antibiotics, in a bottle with ‘natural graphics’ in tans and greens.

Soap for the poor huddled masses, yearning to be clean.

Soap remains a luxury for two-thirds of the human population, but more and more people want it because they’re now seeing the ads. Unilever and Gillette are building new markets in the developing world to drive soap sales for the next 60 years. They’ve developed other channels to create the want in people who don’t have TV or internet by sponsoring mobile cinemas and sports teams, for example. So when India removed the barrier of a soap tax, sales doubled in one year and continue to expand along with India’s middle class.

Just do it, because it’s a good thing.

Almost half of the two million children who die each year from diarrhea could be saved by proper handwashing, according to a market report describing partnership potential between UNICEF, World Bank, various governments and businesses. It’s a classic case of cause marketing: “Whilst public investment in handwashing could produce major health benefits, private industry is also prepared to invest in soap promotion because they wish to grow the market for soaps.”

Why do we Just Do It?

It’s all about influencing behavior based on the customer’s own motivations, as Abraham Maslow described them 60 years ago: Food and sleep, security, belonging and love, respect, and free will (self-actualization).

Robert Cialdini elaborates in Psychology of Persuasion: engaging a customer’s own motivations to buy or do something is like Ju-Jitsu, where a skillful move takes minimum effort for maximum effect because the forward momentum already exists.

Dr. Cialdini looks at 60 years of marketing research, linking numerous case studies from a range of disciplines in a highly engaging way. He says people are motivated by a few universal forces. We can be influenced to do something when one or more of these forces is applied: fair trade (reciprocation), consistency and commitment, consensus, response to authority, liking, and scarcity.

I’ll discuss these concepts in more detail in a later post, including case studies that will be interesting to social marketers working to benefit public health, improve energy conservation and recycling, get out the vote, and more. Dr. Cialdini’s new book “Yes!” is coming out this year, and yes! I plan to buy it.

We can learn a lot from market research.

The principles and techniques used in commercial marketing have been developed through the well-funded, diligent application of scientific testing and observation, professional marketing and design training, lots of focused creativity, and a pay off that pays off the mortgage.

Social marketing takes everything it can get from commercial marketing and goes its own way, with surveys and focus groups to learn how to influence environmental protection, nutrition and exercise, spay and neuter, ridesharing, and yes – brotherhood.

“Don’t Mess With Texas” began twenty years ago as an anti-littering campaign for
the Texas Department of Transportation. It was pure social marketing created to target the swaggering bubba demographic. It was controversial at the time, but the slogan caught fire and engaged that big Texas pride, and litter has decreased more than 70 percent. What’s more, the DOT has earned serious income through licensing the slogan to hundreds of T-shirt and mousepad makers.

Social marketing uses prompts like special bins for recycling the way stores use window displays. Social marketing campaigns can be as simple or elaborate as any other campaign. It depends mostly on who’s got the money to fund the research, planning and expertise, and what the funders hope to receive in return.

The bottom line is always what’s in it for me? Too much effort or money and I won’t want it, but remove or reduce those barriers and engage some personal motivations, and I can be influenced to buy or do what you want.

Is there a market for brotherhood?

Social marketing is like any other kind of marketing in that the benefits have to outweigh the cost, whether that cost is in dollars or effort. You have to remove barriers and provide incentives to try and influence people to buy or do what you want.

Bush’s war on Iraq has been good for career militarists, good for companies that manufacture war products, good for their stockholders. Lockheed Martin’s stock has grown nearly 600% since 2000. What would these people do without war? It’s a serious question, one that recognizes a big barrier to selling brotherhood.

There is a market for peace.

Sixty years ago, the defeat of fascist states and repudiation of criminal leaders and the horrors they engineered led to the United Nations and the Geneva Convention. These represent broad agreement that keeping the peace and respecting individual rights is a good thing globally, just like it is in San Luis Obispo. Cannibalism was common around the world until colonialism enforced a more civilized ethic, and now it’s rare. Colonialism is becoming rare as well, as tribal and nationalistic perspectives evolve.

Armed conflicts and related deaths have declined during the past 60 years, especially in the developed world. This is attributed in part to agricultural advances and birth control, which reduce resource competition, as well as a more educated population that values human rights and supports the rule of law. Criminals and killers have always been with us, but the trend is towards peace.

Enlightened societies recognize that educated, motivated citizens create more opportunities to improve the human condition. Enlightened people recognize that peace is worth pursuing and peaceful resolution is possible – not only because it’s the compassionate and ethical choice, but also because it’s the most productive.

Yes you can – sell brotherhood like you can sell soap.

“¡Sí se puede!” César Chávez told fellow farmworkers, “Yes you can change things. There is power in brotherhood.” Their work is still very hard, but conditions are better. Chávez and supporters made barriers fall. Even when results are less than hoped for, to stay inspired and mutually supportive is to continue the momentum.

It’s a small thing, but for the past 30 years I haven’t bought grapes unless they’re organic. Thankfully organic grapes are more available than ever. Over the years I bought other non-organic produce because that’s all there was or all I could afford, even while doing graphics for ECOSLO promoting the Chávez garden in Nipomo. But Chávez only asked people to stop buying grapes unless they are organic. It’s a small, do-able thing that has resulted in a huge shift in the agricultural industries, to their own economic benefit, while bettering health conditions for farmworkers and ultimately all of us and ourselves.

Do you want fries with that?

This marketing technique is known as an up-sell, where the customer has committed to buy something and it’s easy to squeeze a little more profit out of the deal. Soap makers are making it possible for poor kids and their parents to buy handsoap and a discounted sample of laundry soap. It’s a good deal if both buyer and seller are happy, a better deal if it saves lives, a great deal when manufacturers do it so the environment is actually improved by people switching from harsh bar soaps to ecofriendly forumulations. It is not only possible to do this, it is the intelligent decision and the moral responsibility. Lots of good influencers in there.

There is money in peace.

Economic modeling consistently shows increased general prosperity when societies are peaceful and productive. Compassion is a viable profit maker under the handwashing initiative – Unilever sells more soap and a million poor kids survive childhood diarrhea. Obviously, it’s a waste to lay waste. A business model with a byproduct of waste is inherently inefficient, draining the bottom line.

The profit potentials of population control and environmental responsibility are as quantifiable as any other business plan and budget projection. The Earth’s gifts that we call natural resources have intrinsic, quantifiable dollar values that have to be factored into the budget. Otherwise you burn through your capitol and eventually, rupture the bank.

What’s in it for me? We’re wasting a lot of money in Iraq, where 40 pallets stacked with American cash weighing 30 tons disappeared earlier this year. Halliburton is happy, Blackwater, the Iraq army. But millions of small businesspeople like me would rather support a family and employees here in America, than see the government enrich international businesses whose business is killing. In purely economic terms, it’s a waste of my tax dollars. I want a return on my investments. I want my tax dollars going for better things: environmental protection, education, health care, infrastructure…



Expanding the brotherhood brand.

Dove is not the only soap in town, anymore than peace is a single white dove in an empty blue sky. Peace has 31 flavors and 100 greatest hits, a thousand laws, millions of applications, and billions of potential customers. Like market-focused manufacturers, we can add value to the basic product to make peace appeal to more people in more circumstances. We can develop other channels to create peace where it isn’t currently available – show people what it looks like and how to do it.

Peace promoters using a social marketing framework can help create and promote different kinds of peace. Lots of people already practice peace in many ways, and more and more people are making a living at it. Mediation, meditation, win-win negotiating, consumer protection laws, peace rallys, street theater and graphic design, support for candidates who support peace, being a kind person – all flavors of peace.

Dennis Kucinich advocates for a Department of Peace to counter the power and perspective of the Departments of War. We’ve tried checks and balances before, and it has worked pretty well for more than 200 years.

Hope is a choice.

In the grip of war profiteers who squander lives and treasure, creatives who pander to the basest emotions with awful images and ideas, and heavy consequences from stupid practices that are damaging our life support systems, it might seem naïve to think we can get beyond the culture of corruption and war. Can you use social marketing and cause marketing to get more and more people to want peace? Can you sell brotherhood like you can sell soap?

“¡Sí se puede!”

A Few Marketing Concepts

Just Do It – Nike slogan
It’s a good thing – Martha Stewart
I’m worth it – L’Oreal
Rinse and repeat – Use more product.
Yes – Get the yes, and you’re more likely to get more yeses.
Extend the brand – Introduce new products under a familiar name; a product line.
Barrier – A condition that prevents people from buying or doing something.
Up-sell – Ask the buying customer to buy something else relatively inexpensive; ie, “do you want a service agreement with that new computer?”
Prompt – A reminder.
Value-added marketing – Adding features to enhance the basic product. The iPod is a thousand songs in your pocket or a glorified transistor radio depending on how much you value instant access to your favorite music, though you can still only listen to one song at a time.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – Why people do what they do.
Hope – Because it’s better than the alternative and it doesn’t have to be based on current conditions. All business plans are hopeful.

A Few Good Links

Tools of Change – case studies and proven methods for promoting health, safety and environmental citizenship.
Community-Based Social Marketing – articles, reports, graphics, case studies, listserv.
National Social Marketing Center – great free downloads and other resources.
Katya Andresen’s Robin Hood Marketing – cause marketing.
Hands-On Social Marketing and Spare Change Blog
United Nations Environment Programme’s gallery on sustainability communications (ads from around the world)
designcanchange.org – sustainable design community
truthout.org – where is the missing billions of American cash?
Springwise – great ideas database for entreprenuerers interested in social marketing and cause marketing as well.

And this video, which has a great message (except I would have titled it something like “Peace is possible and even profitable):


Terre Dunivant is Creative Partner at Gaia Graphics & Associates in San Luis Obispo.
A portion of this article was published in HopeDance Magazine, November 2007.


Gaia Graphics & Associates… creative by nature ~ www.gaiagraphics.com

4 Responses to “Selling Soap and Brotherhood”

  • from GGA says:

    Comment on Boston Globe article by R. Craig Lefebvre, PhD

    The focus of the piece is on two recent studies that question the relative value of social marketing to free distribution methods. And while the balanced part of the piece does include some proponents calling for complementarity in strategies, the media advocate in me realizes that when your opponent gets the first and last word in, the reporter’s mind was made up.

    What puzzles me is that the reporters and commentators on this issue leave unexamined comments by the ‘free distribution’ advocates such as this: Kremer argues that the logic of “free = life” has been so amply demonstrated that it should be extended to every basic health good, including condoms. Start adding up the costs for subsidizing health-related products such as food, condoms, bednets, soap, clean cooking fuels, AZT, ACT, clean water supplies, vitamin supplements, oral rehydration salts and therapies, treatments for tuberculosis and pneumonia, reproductive health products and services, tobacco cessation programs, obesity prevention programs, treatments for mental illnesses, and … [add your own favorites here] and I wonder where all the resources will come from, and what the trade-offs would be. Yet, while the article is framed by the idea of trying to achieve sustainability in development programs (more on social marketing approaches to sustainability) these questions remain curiously unaddressed and unexplored. We should be talking about realities, not ideologies, and seeking practical and sustainable approaches to improving the health and social conditions of poor and vulnerable peoples.

    I do hope that this conversation leads to more research on which to establish an evidence base that addresses the question: Which distribution and pricing strategies, promoted for which products and services, under what conditions, work for specific groups of people? And if you like, don’t call it marketing.

    http://preview.tinyurl.com/29vghe

    R. Craig Lefebvre, PhD is the Chief Maven at Population Services International (PSI) and an internationally recognized expert in social marketing and health communication.

  • from GGA says:

    Interesting Counterpoint in the Boston Globe 11/11/07

    A handout, not a hand up
    By Christopher Shea
    November 11, 2007
    A popular approach to ‘sustainable development’ doesn’t work, critics say

    THE HOLY GRAIL of international development has long been sustainability – creating markets and institutions that will flourish after Western donors have gone home.

    In public health, many aid groups have embraced a strategy of stimulating demand for goods such as condoms, anti-malaria bed nets, and water-purification systems through education and advertising, and then selling them at very low prices through health clinics, kiosks, and itinerant vendors. One goal of this strategy, called “social marketing,” is to create homegrown distribution networks that wouldn’t exist if the products were simply given away. But another has been to persuade people to value products that are good for them, and for several decades it’s been the conventional wisdom that unless people spend money on something they will be unlikely to value it – or use it. Give things away and they will be taken for granted, it’s thought.

    The proponents of social marketing point to dramatic successes. Population Services International, for example, sold some 49 million condoms in Zimbabwe in 2006 and takes partial credit for that nation’s recent decline in HIV-infection rates, a first for a sub-Saharan country.

    But in the last couple of years there has been a sharp backlash against this philosophy that has pushed its practitioners off-balance and led economists to take sides. Some officials with the World Health Organization have started to speak out against the practice. High-profile development scholars, including the Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, have joined a chorus of criticism, and several economic studies have chipped away at the rationale behind social marketing. A detailed study of drug distribution in Kenya, published in the latest issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, finds that social marketing does not work, leaving more people to suffer. The debate is now roiling development circles, and its outcome may determine the shape of major worldwide efforts to combat malaria, AIDS, diarrhea, and other maladies that take millions of lives annually.

    more…
    http://preview.tinyurl.com/3dsqjw

  • Good to see more and more people looking for the insights into human nature that make selling brotherhood just as doable as selling soap. The mechanism is the same, it’s the intent that’s different.
    Cialdini is a great starting point.
    Thanks for the links below the article, there are some good resources there.

  • Hi Terre,

    Great post and intro to social marketing concepts. I love how you expanded my soap example and went way beyond with it. Hope you’re doing well!

    Nedra