(附中文) To penetrate into the rural area in India, Unilever launched Project Shakti: enabling Indian women to promote its products into inaccessible markets. These poor Indian women could get funding from local microfinance organizations, receive training from Unilever and start their small business to improve the living standard. In addition, Unilever also provided training on personal health and community hygiene to local communities and leveraged mobile technology to improve the supply chain efficiency. Though the project can barely break even currently, I feel so inspired by how Unilever combined social impact and commercial benefits.
However, there are two concerns that challenged my thoughts about marketing fundamentally: (1) As a marketer, we always want to create needs and sell more, but it seems awkward that we persuade the poor to use toothpaste way more than they actually need. It’s very difficult to draw the moral line between social impact and commercial benefits, but I think we should be brave enough to only do marketing for products that we truly believe that can create value. For example, my classmate felt uncomfortable to promote whitening cream in India, and my professor refused to help tobacco companies doing marketing. Without the alignment in value systems, all the marketing will become a disaster to both the marketers and the target segments.
(2) While promoting modern concepts to rural areas, would marketers destroy the local cultures or put stigma on certain conditions? For example, when promoting the personal health concepts, did marketers accidentally put stigma on people with certain diseases like HIV or create conflicts with the traditional eating behaviors? Though we didn’t discuss on this today, I feel it’s a pretty serious problem when working in rural areas. How do you think?
Photo credit: my classmate who worked with Shakti at Unilever