Soap Chalk, an Ingenious Way to Help Kids Wash Hands, Is Cannes’ Most Effective Campaign

The work won gold for Outdoor last year


CANNES, France—A little-known campaign that created “soap chalk” to help schoolchildren in India wash their hands has won one of the most prestigious awards at the Cannes Lions Festival for Creativity, beating out “Fearless Girl,” “Cheetos Museum” and “Google Home of the Whopper” for the Creative Effectiveness Grand Prix.

“It’s a great feeling to win the Creative Effectiveness Grand Prix, one of the toughest and most prestigious awards at the Cannes Lions for Savlon Healthy Hands Chalk Sticks,” said Sonal Dabral, vice chairman and group chief creative officer, Ogilvy India.

Ogilvy Mumbai and the soap company Savlon started with a problem: Kids in India eat with their hands but often don’t wash them with soap, and it’s one of the leading causes of illness and school dropouts. So they created Healthy Hands Chalk Sticks, which look and work like typical chalk, but the powdery residue left on your fingers turns into soap. One reason the idea is so effective is that students in India use chalk as often as American kids use iPads—they can practice good hygiene without even trying.

The work is part of a larger effort to promote hand washing in a place where parents often don’t require it and teachers struggle to enforce it, called the Savlon Swasth India Mission. The chalk is being distributed to schools across the country.

“This campaign was rooted in a simple product idea,” Dabral told Adweek. “Savlon is not just talking about change, but actively participating in making it and making it happen in schools across India and other countries.”

The jury said three entries really shone: Ogilvy’s work for Savlon, Goodby Silverstein & Partners work for Cheetos and Colenso BBDO’s campaign for Pedigree called “The Child Replacement Program.” The latter two won gold, but Ogilvy pulled ahead because it showed a clear link between its campaign and change.

“It was a unanimous vote,” said Harjot Singh, McCann Europe CSO and jury member. “We went back, voted, and it was like, ‘unanimous Grand Prix—pop the champagne.”

Creative Effectiveness honors work that drives results. And for that reason, it’s limited to contenders who’ve won Lions in the past and have had time to build a case for effectiveness. “Chalk Sticks” won gold for Outdoor last year.

“We wanted to send a signal that if you really want to stand out you need to approach things differently. It is not your traditional campaign that’s going to do it for you,” said Fernando Machado, CMO, Burger King, who was jury president.

Fearless Girl, which won the Grand Effie a couple weeks ago, got a Silver at Cannes. Jurors said they spent the most time debating what would move from Silver to Gold. The darling of Wall Street was designed to promote State Street Global Advisors’ SHE Fund, which invests in companies with strong female representation on the board of directors.

“It was the only piece of work in the category that wasn’t as commercially understood as some of the others,” McCann’s CSO said. “Secondly, it was hard for the jury to completely link causality and return on investment and also to be able to understand the context of the increase [in women on boards]—why was that increase really significant? There was a lot of discussion around that. The understand was it was probably one of the strongest silvers.”

While presenting the award Friday night, Machado noted that “Chalk Sticks” is “a campaign that’s not a campaign. It’s much bigger than that,” and showed the power of collaboration between agencies and their clients.

@stephpaterik Stephanie Paterik is the executive editor of Adweek, where she leads the editorial staff and strategy.