Ending the pernicious problem of public poop

Thanks to Jess Kukreti of Olson Zaltman for sharing this NPR story on the Global Sanitation Fund’s efforts to eliminate open defecation in Nepal.

The organization is experimenting with a strategy called Community Led Total Sanitatation (CLTS). A typical activity includes residents being led on a walk around the village while a group facilitator points out piles of human feces and asks who is responsible.  If someone can identify the culprit, the group leader hectors that person them with questions like, “How does this make you feel? Do you feel good about that?”

Some have criticized this “shaming” approach for being offensive and condescending.  Perhaps. But it also has been successful, helping to nearly eliminate open defecation in Bangladesh.

Emotions like shame, disgust, and guilt can be tricky.  In a traditional marketing context, research shows they can backfire.  If consumers perceive that a brand is trying to manipulate their feelings of guilt, they find that communication to be less credible, they are less likely to actually feel guilty, they lose trust in the company, and they can even become angry at the company.

This situation is probably a bit different. Not only is this not a “company” trying to promote a “brand,” but also CLTS is using guilt/shame to inhibit behavior that clearly violates social norms – rather than using it to persuade more people to buy a specific brand of laundry detergent, for example. So guilt/emotion has the power to motivate people here in a way that it might not in a classic marketing effort.