Remember when you wanted to be a part of the cool kids’ group in school? Everyone wanted to be with the cool kids, and if you were one or associated with one, you were accepted. Not just accepted, you were seen with awed, admiring, approving eyes by one and all. Yeah, it was incredible to belong to that hallowed group.
Now, in a clever twist to an age-old public health problem, the Government of India is creating a cool kids’ club among adults. That is, it is distinguishing between those who use toilets versus those who don’t.
Open defecation remains a preferred way to relieve oneself in India, where almost 500 million people still use the fields, railway tracks, or any open space for excretory bodily functions. Despite millions of latrines being built over many, many years, people just won’t budge. The fresh air around, the vast sky above, and the company of others is hard to pass up for a dark, walled in, solitary structure. Countless explanations of health hazards and even monetary incentives have proven too weak to overcome this established habit.
Enter, from left field, the “In-Crowd” impulse.
There is a massive ad campaign underway to create a feeling of “coolness” associated with using toilets. The underlying premise? If you’re made to feel excluded from the cool kids, who all do it inside, you’ll change in a hurry. After all, no one wants to be an outsider, social pariah. The mantra is simple: Use a toilet, join the In-Crowd.
The campaign explains what is socially acceptable behaviour and presents it as something everyone (except you) is doing already. To nail the point, it mocks those who are still going out in the open as people who just aren’t with it, again making it clear who is “in” and who is “out”. And as if this kind of social rejection weren’t enough, it’s done by a kid, making it painfully obvious that even children know what’s cool and isn’t. The coup de grace is the person showing them the way – Amitabh Bachchan, India’s Bollywood superstar, the ultimate desi cool kid. Everyone wants to be like him and be associated with him. If toilets are the way to do it, so be it.
I like this campaign. It turns everything about enclosed toilets on its head. Using them is now the thing to do because everyone is doing it, especially the cool people. Instead of using rational arguments, it makes an emotional one, about social acceptance and belonging. It makes it really simple: don’t be on the out, get in.