Saumya Tewari

Lifebuoy - Act II

Under the 'Help a Child Reach Five' initiative, Lifebuoy releases its second compelling campaign. This time, the setting is Bitobe Village in Indonesia.

Lifebuoy's "Gondappa" campaign, highlighting the preventable diarrhea-related deaths in Indian villages, has won more than just accolades. It started a mission to save lives of children under the brand's initiative 'Help a Child Reach Five'.

Lifebuoy - Act II
Taking the initiative ahead, Lifebuoy has made its way to Indonesia one of the biggest markets. The brand has adopted Bitobe Village, situated in the mountains in the southwestern tip of West Timor in Indonesia, as target. The village itself is picturesque but sanitation is another matter. With limited water supplies, hygiene takes a backseat and disease is rife. Unilever has been working in Indonesia for the last 10 years and this campaign is the latest in its efforts to help fight disease.

The giving tree

Set in the village, the poignant 'Tree of Life' campaign is the story of a mother's love, loss and longing after losing her child to diarrhea. As the film opens, the viewer is introduced to 'Utari' a young woman who is shown emotionally involved with a tree outside her house. She takes care, shares food and plays with it, sometimes entire nights. One night, well into the wee hours, her husband places tiny toys around it, and asks her to go to sleep. The man then talks directly to the tree and says "Tomorrow is your big day, you'll turn five, sleep well, my son."

Amer Jaleel, national creative director, Lowe Lintas & Partners (the agency that has made this campaign) says that Indonesia was on their list ever since they were working on the first campaign which was set in Madhya Pradesh's Thesgora village.

"Post the Gondappa campaign, we conducted a workshop all over the world and an art director from Lowe Indonesia shared that there is a tradition of planting a tree when a child is born in the country. So, people can keep a track of child's progress through tree's growth," he explains.

The story is weaved around this insight, he says, adding that it is very natural for a mother to start taking care of the tree as her own child. The symbolism is very clear there.

While the Gondappa campaign showcased the joy of a man whose son managed to survive and turn five, the 'Tree of Life' film portrays the stark reality of child mortality, something that can be prevented by taking simple measures like washing one's hands regularly. Jaleel believes that although it is a dark subject they tried to not let the campaign become a 'conventionally dark ad'.

"Death, like life, is a part of people's life," he says. "While these incidents might be very dark and overbearing for us but for people who go through this, it becomes a part of their life. They start living with the reality." He reasons adding that that is why they showed a regular life of a husband and wife who have lost their child to diarrhea.

According to a UNICEF and WHO report released in 2012, one child dies from diarrhea or pneumonia every 15 seconds - that makes it 1.7 million children every year. And these are diseases that can be kept at bay by simply washing one's hands with soap. There has been some controversy about Unilever's Help a Child Reach Five effort in Indonesia with the local government West Timor not taking kindly to Unilever Indonesia's ads and campaigns that seemingly connect poverty and poor awareness of hygiene. But this ad, in particular, makes no comment about poverty but tugs at heartstrings.


Samir Singh, global brand VP, Lifebuoy, in a release had this to say: "These deaths can be prevented by taking cost-effective, lifesaving solutions such as washing your hands with soap. We wanted to tell the world the Lifebuoy story in a deeply emotional way and turn the Help A Child Reach 5 campaign into something personal and powerful."

Produced by Phenomenon Films, the campaign was shot in Bangkok in three days. Both the protagonists are local upcoming actors in Indonesia. The music in the story section of the film has instrumentation inspired from Timor, Papua and the East Indonesian region. The instruments used are bamboo-made percussions, a single-string tribal instrument and some vocal chants from these regions.

A long format film, the brand opted for a digital-first strategy since the internet provides instant action in terms of sharing or becoming a part of the campaign. Posted on April 30th on YouTube, the film has, so far, garnered 8.8 million views up until Saturday morning. The brand's Facebook page is promoting the initiative heavily. One can even reach out on Twitter via #HelpAChildReach5.

Lifebuoy - Act II
Lifebuoy - Act II
Lifebuoy - Act II
Lifebuoy will also be undertaking BTL activities to teach the importance of washing hands through school programmes, informing mothers through meetings and home visits and the community at large through film screenings and education branding like wall paintings.

Lifebuoy claims to have taken its hand-washing behaviour change programmes to 183 million people across the world, and is now committed to change the hand-washing behaviour of a billion people by 2015. This is part of Unilever's Sustainable Living Plan.


Experts we spoke to believe that while the Gondappa campaign set a high benchmark for the brand, Lifebuoy managed to deliver the crucial message yet again in a heart-rending manner.

Vikisha Parekh Mehta, creative director, Guava Communications finds the craft in the execution which has turned a simple message in a 'touching human story'. "The campaign is not predictable. In spite of it being the second Lifebuoy film you don't know what's coming till the film gets over," she notes adding that it is as powerful and emotional as the "Gondappa" campaign.

For Nakul Sharma, executive creative director, Havas Worldwide, the tree, which stands for life and nurturing across culture, is a 'powerful visual'. He finds this campaign resonate better as it looks and feels more natural than the brand's earlier campaign. He suggests that the video could have had a link (to the website maybe) at the end. "It could have more information regarding what a viewer can do to chip in," he says.

Arun Sharma, VP - Integrated Strategy Planning, Cheil Worldwide SW Asia dubs the campaign as a 'terrific example' of a brand shifting the argument from 'what' it does to 'why' it does that. The ad definitely creates "the penny-has-dropped moment". The metaphor of the 'tree' brilliantly touches the parents' emotion of bringing up a child.

He, however, points out that while the messaging works, the key challenge will be the messaging formats media selection and speaking the local language. "This will allow Lifebuoy to really go deep down to this TG and spread this habit. The other key aspect to keep in mind is the literacy level, so there is no role for supers here," he quips.

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