by | Jun 3, 2014 | Behaviour, Marketing | 0 comments

By Deborah Wroe

Some people get inspired by seeing/reading (and tweeting and sharing) inspirational quotes, or by reading business gurus’ books. I don’t, at all. But I read a fascinating story a few days ago that really inspired me, on many levels.

It was in the BBC magazine online, and it’s quite long. I’ll give you the full link at the end so you can read it too, and hopefully be inspired, but first I’ll give you a précis and my take on it, and why and how it inspired me.

So this guy, Arunachalam Muruganantham, in rural India, in 1998, discovered, after marrying, that women have periods. He was appalled to discover his wife was using dirty rags in place of sanitary pads. When Muruganantham went to buy sanitary pads for his wife, and saw how expensive they were, he set about trying to make them himself, which took him on an interesting and lengthy journey that lost him his wife in the process.

Some of the challenges Muruganantham faced were cultural. He needed to do market research, but menstruation, and feminine hygiene products weren’t talked about (only 12% of women across India use sanitary pads*), particularly by men, and he ended up having to be his own guinea pig, creating the right consistency of blood through freshly slaughtered goats blood mixed with a clot prevention additive. This was added to his home-made uterus – a football bladder with a couple of holes in. Muruganantham then wore his uterus under his traditional clothes and walked, cycled and ran to test the pad.

He also studied used sanitary pads, which led to his mother also leaving him, and the local villagers believing he was possessed by the devil. He was forced to leave his home village to avoid being chained upside down to a tree to be ‘healed’ by the local soothsayer.

It took him two years and three months (and a bit of mild industrial espionage – he claimed to be a textile mill owner considering moving into the business, and requested samples) to discover what sanitary pads are made of and a further four and a half years to create his own low-cost production method. This man is tenacious.

According to the article, his machines are now in 1,300 villages in 23 states. It is the women who produce the pads and directly sell them. He is now expanding internationally.

This is a man who left school at 14, who spent all his money trying to figure out how to make a product that would benefit society (but not himself directly), who in the process lost his wife and was shunned by family and friends, yet has managed to create a low cost, locally produced product after carrying out his own market research on a product he could never properly use. He has created jobs. He has won a design award, presented to him by the President of India. He has won back the respect of his family and friends, and won back his wife.

For me, most importantly, he has achieved cultural change through challenging the norm (and probably saved lives**). We can’t even get sanitary product marketing right in the western world –  women in tight white pants cycling and playing tennis?

I’ve learned from this story, and been inspired by it. Behavioural change is one of the most fascinating aspects of marketing for me, and this story nails it. We need more Arunachalam Murugananthams in my opinion.

The full story http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26260978

*Source – a 2011 survey by AC Nielsen, commissioned by the Indian government, which found that only 12% of women across India use sanitary pads. Taken from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26260978

** Source – Approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene – it can also affect maternal mortality. Taken from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26260978