There’s no denying that Procter and Gamble (P&G) happened to be in the right place at the right time when Hurricane Jeanne wreaked havoc in Haiti in September this year. The healthcare and household products giant was able to spring into action, together with aid agencies, to offer emergency relief to people in the west-coast city of Gonaives, providing an estimated four million litres of safe drinking water. This was possible because P&G had already shipped a million water-purifying sachets to the country for the launch of its first ‘social marketing’ initiative. This project – part of the public-private ‘Safe Drinking Water Alliance’ – includes non-profit group Population Services International (PSI) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
Through social marketing, private-sector firms usually provide their products at cost price to specialist organizations like PSI, which distribute them to local populations (often in developing countries) for a small charge. Some form of public health education usually accompanies the ‘marketing’ process.
So why has P&G decided to embark on this, and a similar programme due to begin in Uganda in November? There are the laudable social motives of reducing mortality and ‘integrating sustainability’ into the company’s business practices. Then there is the ‘marketing’ component, which according to Greg Allgood, Associate Director of the P&G Health Sciences Institute, is the main motivator: ‘In a lot of these countries, the commercial potential is limited, because of their [lack of] infrastructure. To be successful here would be outside our capability, because we would not have the necessary distribution channels.’
Teaming up with NGOs, which may be the only organizations with a local presence, is an effective way to get a company’s product out there and known among potential consumers. While P&G won’t be making any profits from its social marketing programmes, it certainly sees them as a long-term investment that should eventually bring some financial benefit. Allgood doesn’t beat about the bush: ‘We will learn about consumers in countries that we are not in now and that will translate into top-line growth over time. In Haiti and so on, we are opening up the way for a whole portfolio of P&G products.’Megan Rowling