Sexy Marketing Aims to Boost Toilet Use

Tasha Eichenseher in Istanbul, Turkey
for National Geographic News
March 17, 2009

If a public toilet is good enough for Miss Kenya, it should be good enough for the less glamorous citizens of her nation.

At least that's the theory behind a marketing campaign for public toilets in Nairobi's vast Kibera slum. At these "toilet malls," people can also shower, get their shoes repaired, shop for food, use the phone, and feel proud to be seen.

More than 2.5 billion people worldwide reportedly don't have access to a clean, safe place to do their business. And in many cultures, toilet-related words and actions are taboo—adding to the challenges faced by development and sanitation workers, said Pete Kolsky, senior water and sanitation specialist at the World Bank.

Nearly five million people annually die of waterborne diseases, and more than 80 percent of the developing world's illnesses are caused by unsafe water and inadequate sanitation, according to the nonprofit group Water Advocates.

Traditional methods of building facilities and educating people about the connection between disease and exposure to fecal matter aren't enough to break through social stigmas, according to Kolsky.

The solution: selling sanitation the Madison Avenue way, with good old-fashioned sex appeal and social pressure.

In Kenya, a nonprofit organization called Ecotact has called on Miss Kenya, along with the country's vice president, a popular comedian, and local religious leaders to promote, visit, and use the new public toilets of Kibera.

Ecotact director David Kuria said he wants to link beauty and hygiene. "We asked, 'How do we make this topic sexy, glamorous?'"

Singing for Sanitation and Health

Linking celebrities and toilet use is just one approach.

In Cambodia, where drinking water can be dangerously polluted, one development entrepreneur has started producing romantic karaoke videos about testing for pollution and using soap.

One video (watch on next page) features an attractive young couple.

Continued on Next Page >>


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