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The World Bank Vietnam Five Clean Fingers – an international perspective on communicating public health messages


The World Bank Vietnam Five Clean Fingers – an international perspective on communicating public health messages


Client: The World Bank
Campaign: 360/Synchronised campaign for handwashing with soap
Agency: Grey Vietnam


Grey Vietnam created a unique social marketing public awareness campaign in Vietnam. The driving idea behind the campaign was: Five Clean Fingers. The campaign is part of a global public health initiative stemming from research indicating that handwashing with soap at critical times is one of the most effective ways to prevent common viral and bacterial diseases. The project initiator, the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program, the leader of the National Handwashing Initiative, selected Grey Vietnam as its communications partner in the campaign, which is part of international efforts toward millennium development goals.

The objective was to reach rural mothers with children under five years of age with key messages for behavior change. Grey’s annual consumer study on Asians, Eye on Asia revealed a key insight about rural Vietnamese women: Being a mother = Stress. Their biggest source of stress is when their children get sick. The challenge was to overcome myths about cleanliness believed by the target audience, uncovered by research conducted by Nielsen. Among people’s beliefs were that water alone is enough and that clean looking and smelling hands are clean enough.


The research findings were used in a communication workshop where campaign objectives were developed with public and private partners, stakeholders, including Vietnamese Ministry of Health and other government agencies. Grey Vietnam applied its brand acceleration model to develop the campaign, Driving Idea steeped in local culture and having the ‘magic’ ingredient needed to talk to and convince mothers – children themselves. For generations, Vietnamese use proverbs and songs to teach and train children in the Vietnamese traditions. Mothers and kids sing the songs to reinforce values. One such song’s lyrics are: One plus one is two. Two plus two is four. Four plus one is five. All five clean fingers.

Strategy & Execution

The driving idea, Five Clean Fingers is the foundation for a combination of tactics, including an above-the-line television commercial in both Northern and Southern Vietnamese dialects, a poster series, and a bold campaign logo used throughout the campaign. These materials were used in conjunction with the following below-the-line, direct activation programs: a national launch event for invited government officials and media to encourage campaign momentum; direct-to-target audience regional road shows that bring the mass-media materials deep into rural hamlets; and regional, educational-entertainment fairs, featuring ultra-violet light handwashing demonstrations, local key opinion leader speeches, and a dramatic play production created by Grey Vietnam to deliver key messages to mothers with children under five years of age in a entertaining, yet highly memorable and educational format.

Public Relations was also an integral part of this integrated behavior change communications campaign. Publicity helped reach policy advocacy goals and forge stronger, long-term public/ private partnership alliances. The result was strong, early campaign momentum and on-going media coverage in print, broadcast, and internet mass-media channels.


In addition to overall increased awareness and exposure to messages about the importance of handwashing with soap amongst the target audience, the campaign helped with the commencement of public/private-sector alliance activities and better coordination and collaboration between all relevant parties for next stage of the Vietnam National Handwashing with Soap program, scheduled for launching in 2009.

The media results include two radio reports, eleven TV news reports, 35 web news links, and 24 local, regional and national print publications, resulting in millions of exposures to key messages. Meanwhile through the below-the-line activities, over 30,000 people in pilot regions were reached via direct activations. Grey Vietnam is now assisting Vietnam’s National Handwashing Initiative in organizing the celebration of the 1st Global Handwashing Day in Vietnam. Grey Vietnam also has received a request from the Initiative to roll-out this campaign nationwide, 2012 in 64 provinces and 616 communes, starting now until the year 2012.


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