Mmm, roti. The king of South Asian unleavened flatbreads is a staple on the subcontinent, and of course, is ubiquitous in the best Indian neighborhoods from Artesia in Los Angeles to Singapore’s little India. And recently, these sublime carbohydrate bombs spread an important message about handwashing thanks to a Unilever campaign led by its timeless bar soap brand, Lifebuoy.

This literal “branding” campaign, sparked by both Lifebuoy and OglivyAction, took place during the recent Hindu festival known as the Kumbh Mela. This annual tradition sees millions of pilgrims take to cities such as Allahabad in order to purge away their sins in the Ganges. Allahabad was the scene of the tragic stampede on Sunday, which killed at least 36 people, and that tragedy dominated the headlines. But an important social message was passed on to those who gulped the 2.5 million rotis eaten during Kumbh Mela.

On each roti, the message, “Did you wash your hands with Lifebuoy?” was emblazoned - in Hindi, of course. Restaurants throughout Allahabad served the doughy goodness with the message, and banners and billboards also broadcast the question during the festival. Roti, after all, is to be eaten with your hands, so there was more than just product placement going on here--handwashing has become a serious part of Unilever’s corporate social responsibility agenda.

For Lifebuoy, this was perhaps one of the brand’s biggest moments since Ralphie on the classic holiday epic A Christmas Story had a bar of the garnet colored soap jammed in his mouth after he blurted out, “Oh, fudge” (only, that’s not what he really said). For Unilever and its Sustainable Living Plan, the roti stamping was not only about Lifebuoy sales, but about using its brands to enact social change. Some of us may take handwashing for granted, but where clean water and sanitation are scarce, and poverty exacts a daily toll, such a routine falls by the wayside.

To that end, Unilever has sponsored several programs related to handwashing, including its co-founding of Global Handwashing Day, which the company first launched in 2008. Unilever claims that since the campaign launched, the deaths of children who have died from diarrhea have fallen by half. Unfortunately, 3,000 children under the age of five die daily from diarrhea--but the simple act of handwashing can prevent that disease as well as pneumonia. Spreading an important message instead of disease, and no annoying wrappers left behind? Truly this is a cause branding campaign that rises to the occasion.

Published earlier today on Triple Pundit. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost). He will explore children’s health issues in India, February 16-27, with the International Reporting Project.

[Image credit: Vipul Salvi]

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of Based in California, he specializes in social media consulting and strategic communications. A journalist and writer since 2009, his work has appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Areas of interest include the <a Middle East, sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at You can also reach out via Twitter (Leon Kaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). Since 2013, he has spent much of his time in Abu Dhabi, UAE, working with Masdar, the emirate's renewable energy company. He lives in Fresno, California.