Can a piece of chalk teach young kids a lesson or two in hygiene? Apparently, it can. Under the Healthy Hands Chalk Sticks campaign, soap brand Savlon along with advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather introduced special chalk sticks infused with soap to young children in rural India. These work like regular chalk sticks used to write, but the chalk powder that collects on students’ hands lathers up when it comes in contact with water.

The objective of the campaign was to introduce young children in rural India to the habit of washing hands with soap before meals. Simple yet innovative, the campaign not only reached out to over 40 cities across the country, but it has also been the most awarded Indian campaign at the recently concluded Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. It bagged a total of seven metals across categories such as outdoor, promo and activation, design, product design, PR and health & wellness.

“Under this initiative, we used Savlon Healthy Hands Chalk Sticks as an educational tool to explain the importance of hand washing. Children tend to have short attention spans but they do remember interesting activities. Anything that they can touch, feel and experience tends to be easily internalized by them. Therefore, instead of giving theoretical explanations, we decided to talk about the hygiene issue through chalks," said Sameer Sathpathy, chief executive, personal care, ITC Ltd. 

The idea to create these chalk sticks with soap infused in them came from Savlon’s agency Ogilvy & Mather’s team on the brand, which included copy supervisor Mahesh Ambaliya, senior creative director Ram Hariharan and creative director Nishant Jethi. They worked on the idea, created a prototype of the product and presented it to the client.

“In rural India, the habit of hand washing by using soap is not there, because soap is a luxury for many households. Therefore, we decided to create a product which children use on a daily basis. After creating a working prototype, we took the sample to the client, who was excited with the idea," said Kainaz Karmakar and Harshad Rajadhyaksha, executive creative directors, Ogilvy & Mather.

The company put the formulation through rigorous safety tests before it was mass-produced and distributed. 

The Healthy Hands Chalk Sticks campaign is a part of Savlon Swasth India Mission, a programme designed to encourage behavioural change towards washing hands among children through various engaging and entertaining educational initiatives in schools. The ongoing programme claims to reach out to about one million children in more than 2,000 schools across the country. The mission aims to cover more than 3,000 schools this year. 

Advertising and brand experts seem divided in their opinion about the campaign. 

Naresh Gupta, strategy head and managing partner, advertising agency Bang in the Middle feels that while Savlon’s competition Hindustan Unilever owned Lifebuoy also did a campaign ‘Help a child reach five’ which advocated the need to inculcate the habit of hand washing to reduce mortality among young children, Savlon’s tale is more powerful with a meaningful innovation.

“This innovation taps into the existing behaviour and offers a simple solution. Ideas like this need to be applauded. I did try to order these chalks for some schools, but sadly, they are not listed either on the ITC site or Amazon. I think the brand has missed a big opportunity to make the innovation mainstream and make the whole world seek it out. ITC is a master marketer, may be it will do so in coming days," he said.

However, Saurabh Uboweja, brand guru and chief executive at brand consultancy firm Brands of Desire is not convinced. He thinks that that the campaign comes across as a marketing gimmick. 

“The campaign’s success should be measured by how many schools they were actually able to implement in, or how it actually affected the hygiene and health outcomes for children in schools who actually use a slate and chalk if at all. This means there should have been at least a two-year research backed study to prove the efficacy of the innovative solution implemented . If, however, the objective was simply to create buzz and make people feel how caring Savlon as a brand is, yes, they have been successful," he said.

Uboweja also feels unsettled with the execution of the campaign which shows India in a very shallow light, fitting perfectly into the pre-conceived notion of the country in the West.

“Remember how Slumdog Millionaire won Oscars. I must compliment the agency for finding the perfect recipe for winning awards," he said.