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January 19, 2019

It Is Not Glamorous, But Someone Has To Do It

The number of African graduates who aspire to work in marketing is finally on the increase. This is a good thing. Until recently any youth expressing an interest in being anything other than a doctor, accountant or lawyer was likely to receive a sharp parental blow to his dreads.

But like many young people in developing markets, their view of our industry is distinctly rose-tinted. They expect large starting salaries and benefits; kangaroo leaps in promotion; and frankly to retire at 35 with the wealth and lifestyle of Nigerian business magnate Aliko Dangote.

When they think of marketing, most young people think of brands (which is also a good thing). But they see Martini not Chibuku; Ethiopian Airways not a bus corporation; luxurious food ingredients not maize flour.

And one thing they certainly do not think of is … let us call it poop.

But here is a thing; unless we sort out how people poop, and whether they wash their hands afterwards, we are always going to struggle economically.

I know this, because I came from Europe where until fairly recently (say 250 years ago), people used to poop out of upper storey windows into the street below. Or better still, save up a savoury bucket and fling it out of the window with the cry ‘Gardez l’eau’. Which is where we get the expression ‘loo’.

So while this was good business for makers of waterproof hats and cloaks, it generally held back the development of urban life.

In Africa we are in a similar place, certainly in urban slums. And what goes on in rural areas generally fouls the landscape.

A good friend of mine works for the World Bank and has been up to her elbows in this problem for many years. And it is a proper marketing problem because it involves behaviour change.

It involves new product design (working with international design agencies and plastics firms to create new bases for long drop lavatories). It involves collaboration with soap brands. It requires appropriate messaging campaigns on relevant media. And so on, and so forth.

Initiative; creativity; collaboration; persistence; and performance measurement. All attributes of a great marketer.

Poor pooping procedure has a direct economic effect and reduces the potential of your customer base. So as a marketer, even if you don’t want to work in poop, you should be aware of its impact on your own brand.

My dedicated friend tells me that poor sanitation costs Kenya alone US$324 million (Sh2.8 billion) a year. This is according to a desk study carried out by the bank's water and sanitation programme. This sum is the equivalent of US$8 (Sh692) per person in Kenya per year or 0.9 per cent of the national GDP.

Would you believe that 21 million Kenyans use unsanitary or shared latrines? That 5.6 million have no latrine at all and defecate in the open? And that the poorest quintile is 270 times more likely to practice open defecation, than the richest? I apologise if you are having breakfast.

The figure I show for Kenya is likely to be an underestimate, as it will be for almost every African country.  The following costs are also likely to be significant everywhere on this Continent:

The annual cost of dealing with cholera epidemics is estimated to average US$ 2.2 million.

One study in South Africa found that on average, households spend the equivalent of a year’s total expenditure on food and groceries on funerals.

Early childhood diarrhoea contributes to under nutrition, stunting and wasting which are associated with malnutrition and in turn with reduced long-term cognitive development. In other words children do not reach their full mental or physical potential.

There are also 75 factors that contribute to travel and tourism competitiveness ratings. One of which is sanitation status.

So here is to my friend Yolande, who was amused to be allowed to use the word s**t instead of poop at a World Bank Forum in Washington the other day. More marketers need to join her.

Now kindly wash your hands.

Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising. Most of them spent in Africa. He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside; an international company that helps organisations deliver their brands and strategies through their people.

To comment on this article, send a Tweet to harrisoncj on or visit his blog

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