Cannes, France — Samir Singh, global brand vice president at Unilever, asked that if we pass his story on, we start by showing this incredible video. You have to watch it to understand the challenge his team was up against:


The added heartbreak is that 20 more children under the age of five have died because of diarrhea and pneumonia in the time it took you to watch that video.

1.7 million children, a number equivalent to 20 jumbo jets full of kids under the age of five crashing every day, die every year of these conditions. But, those numbers become statistics. Dr, Myriam Webster, global social mission director, Unilever, said “they remain numbers.” It’s stories that change minds.

Telling that one story – of a man celebrating his son’s 5th birthday – earned more champions of Lifebuoy’s cause than they’d been able to find in the last 120 years combined.

For Unilever, the Lifebuoy brand and it’s good work aren’t about charity or one-off PR opportunities. They’re about changing behaviors to both do good for society and good for the company. Soap saves lives. Selling more soap builds bottom lines.

Rallying people behind that double-bottom-line cause is the focus of this team. They already support the largest public hygiene campaign in the world. Their ambition is to reach 1 billion people.

To accomplish that, they focus in on connecting with mothers at times of high anxiety about hygiene. Times like back to school, change of seasons, and around festivals where people gather and congregate.

In one powerful example, they stamped 5 million roti with a soap washing reminder at Kumbh Mela 2013 in Allahabad, India, where a 100 million visitors pass through.


They’ve also created new ways for villages to connect around better hygiene, like a clever jump pump designed to bring children together or a simple test to show children how clean their “clean hands” really are (that one reminds me of the clean-teeth tests we took in elementary school).



Along the way, the team has learned a lot about what it takes to change norms and save lives. You can’t blame the victims or threaten them with disease, death and doctors. Instead, you have to bring them together. Here are their principles of earning change:

  1. Bring mom and kid together
  2. Create positive reinforcement in a public setting amongst peers
  3. Earn a pledge
  4. Show that visibly clean is not necessarily clean
  5. Stick with them for the 21 days it takes to create a habit

Unilever has delivered real health impact – reducing diarrhea by 25%; reducing respiratory infections by 15%, and increasing school attendance by 40%.

This is their very latest purpose-building, world-changing video that earned 10 million views in 2 weeks.


About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for shaping the company’s perspective on the next era of healthcare marketing. Through thought leadership, strategic innovation workshops and new products and capabilities, Leigh focuses on identifying marketing approaches that will fuel that new era and generate significant growth for clients. Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for over 17 years. She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she had several leadership roles at one of our agencies, GSW. There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business. Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes. A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice, Leigh also was recognized as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.