The last two posts (link here and here) discussed the problem of physiological (and often, medical) need for the product, but no desire to buy from the consumer. This post explores the same problem, but in the space of healthcare and development. Since a lot of the work development agencies do is with the purpose of encouraging basic health and hygiene practises for prevention of diseases, they face this problem quite often, and are beginning to recognise the limitations inherent in the way they have traditionally approached the problem.

As Melinda Gates said at TED (here’s the video clip, watch from 9:40 min on ), “So how does health and development market? It’s based on avoidance, not aspirations. …….. And I think we make a fundamental mistake; we make an assumption, we think that if people need something, we don’t have to make them want that. And I think that’s the mistake”. Among the examples of messages difficult to propagate, Melinda Gates mentioned, “use a condom – don’t get AIDS, wash your hands – you may not get diarrhoea”.

Another basic health and hygiene need that is often discussed is access to clean drinking water. You’d think that in an area with no system of source water purification, in a country where diarrhoea is responsible for 13% of deaths of children under 5, people would be more than willing to pay for clean drinking water. Think Again.

Multiple examples such as that of the Byrraju foundation discussed in this report have shown that the core issue is one of awareness generation and education in order to stimulate demand. Many consumers in India don’t even understand / acknowledge the need for clean drinking water; they feel that they’ve been drinking untreated water from the same source for years and are fine, so why should they pay for something different with an indeterminate future benefit. Even amongst those convinced of the need, there’s a further barrier, the purified water tastes different, and people want water that tastes the same as what they’ve been drinking for decades.

A lot of development agencies that work on encouraging basic practises for prevention of disease have taken the first step of recognising the attitudes and beliefs underlying people’s reluctance to change their habits; and are now working on the interventions necessary to induce and maintain a behaviour change.

The next two posts in this series will discuss examples of how brands are working on inculcating a habit change, both in the commercial and development space.


Zenobia Driver