An Overview of Sanitation Marketing

Marketing is currently one of the most promising approaches for accelerating sanitation coverage. The process of sanitation marketing emerged from reflection, debate, and experimentation around the question of how to stimulate sanitation demand and increase coverage in a sustainable way.

In fact, marketing is at the core of the diffusion of innovations and the takeoff of new consumer products in the modern world (Gatingon and Robertson 1985). Cairncross (2004) discusses four arguments


  • It ensures that people choose to receive what they want and are willing to pay for.
  • It is financially sustainable.
  • It is cost-effective and can be taken to scale.
  • Provision of hardware is not enough. Marketing (with its four component strategies) is a proven and highly effective way to build demand.

Essentially, for sanitation managers in the public or NGO sector, marketing sanitation means:


  1. Using a commercial approach to expand the supply chain and market for the production and delivery of sanitation products, and services
  2. Engaging and developing the private sector to undertake production and delivery in a sustainable way. This includes understanding and removing the constraints that prevent the supply side working effectively
  3. Generating new demand through the application of consumer science and the use of marketing techniques

It is important to appreciate that marketing is a multi-component coordinated intervention that uses a variety of strategies simultaneously to address the four core P’s of marketing


  • Product – “Latrine designs must respond to what people want, rather than what sanitation engineers believe they should have.” Selling products and services without subsidy is the most reliable way of knowing that the design is right.
  • Market research and consumer testing of new designs prior to their launch is a critical part of the design process. Often a range of different products is needed to suit different household budgets and circumstances. Offering choice has been a core strategy for success in many innovative approaches to generating sanitation demand. The same principles apply to service levels.
  • Price – Most of those who need sanitation are poor and can least afford it. Keeping down costs, reducing initial outlay, and marketing a range of products at different price tags is essential. Extreme low-cost product innovations can release demand among the poor (Kar 2003).
  • Place - Products must reach the right place. There must be the potential for product supply chains, information and services to reach every household.

Examples of effective strategies to increase sanitation access and opportunities to act include:


  • Programmes that train local masons
  • Door-to-door sales and promotion techniques
  • Local centres or mobile services that offer a ‘One Stop Shop’ for information, products and services
  • Promotion – This includes communications, advertising and sales techniques to present the product and service, and to convince customers to buy. This task is vitally important for building primary demand for new sanitation. Consumer science and professional advertising and market communications skills can be very valuable in developing effective promotional materials, content, and strategies that work with consumers.

The private sector knows that to achieve takeoff in the pioneering stages of a new product category, there are four essential tasks to undertake:


  • Educate consumers about the new category
  • Encourage trial usage
  • Build the distribution channel
  • Segment the market to better serve specific needs (Haim 1997).

Thus, we need to rethink our use of sanitation investments. More money, effort and creativity needs to be focussed on consumer education and product promotion. Thus increased information together with the development of commercial distribution for improved and cheaper products, is needed to accelerate the rate of uptake of improved sanitation.

In-depth studies of households who adopt improved sanitation and those who do not, have confirmed the importance of four programme design features needed to stimulate adoption and new demand:

  1. Offering households a choice of locally adapted sanitation products and service levels to suit their budgets and lifestyles
  2. Coupled with access to good information about technical, functional, financial and construction features of the different options,
  3. Using creative promotional communications strategies to raise awareness, interest and motivation, and
  4. Using various door-to-door promotion techniques to directly engage individual households.

Addressing the issue of construction without subsidy is a crucial element for successful demand stimulation in many projects, especially in rural areas (Jenkins 2004; Kar 2003; Mukherjee 2000; Frias and Mukerjee 2005; WSP-Africa 2005).

Critics of the marketing process usually voice concerns about how it neglects the needs of the poor. This ignores the fact that current practices are failing to reach the poor. The simple message when beginning a sanitation marketing process is ‘don’t panic about the poor’. Marketing is an on-going process which requires constant review and redesign.

It is important during the monitoring and evaluation process to assess whether the poor, and other vulnerable groups, are actually acquiring and using latrines and if they are not, what constraints they are facing. If these can be recognised then positive action can be taken to target and support them. Designs of extremely affordable latrines; savings and loan groups, or specially targeted informational efforts, are all ways to address the needs of the poor.

If they are acquiring latrines and the market is meeting their needs then no action is necessary. One of the basic principles behind marketing is that of offering the consumer a choice. Choice is the one thing the poor lack as their behaviour is dictated by the circumstances in which they find themselves. By offering a choice directly to the poor, the marketing approach can become an empowering process.

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