Innovation at SMC

Use of Innovative Communication Channel for Strategic Behavior Change

When social marketing began in Bangladesh, many were skeptical about the feasibility of large-scale information dissemination and advertising of contraceptive products. They were skeptical mostly for three reasons. First, Bangladesh is predominantly Muslim society in which reproductive health was not openly discussed. Second, much of the population was illiterate at that time with limited access to media. Third, the majority of the population was very poor and there were doubts that people could be persuaded to purchase contraceptives when these supplies were available free from other sources.

To address the prevailing formidable situation in the mid seventies, SMC launched a strong and innovative communication program to facilitate and sustain behavior changes towards family planning and contraceptive use. The program is now recognized worldwide for its creative use of innovative channels to communicate generic family planning and health messages and to promote sales of branded products. All modern mass media communication channels including regional and national radio, television, and print media were being utilized from the very beginning. The products have been advertised on billboards, signs, buildings, water tanks, shop boards and banners, rickshaws, shopping bags, at sporting events, and through free promotional distribution. Riverboats carried Raja Condom logos on their sails.

The Mobile Film Program (MFP) is a hallmark of social marketing in Bangladesh, and a major factor in making SMC the largest social marketing program in the world. The mobile van fleet presents audio-visual shows that reach hundreds of thousands in rural areas with education on health issues and advertisements of SMC’s products. A recently conducted study on MFP showed that 63 percent of the MFP viewers have learned new information on family planning, 53 percent learned new information on STD/AIDS and 32 percent learned new information on women trafficking watching mobile film program (MRC-MODE, 2007).

The pharmacists and non-graduate medical practitioners are one of the major sources of health information and prescriber of medicine, particularly in rural and semi-urban areas. As a part of the comprehensive communication strategy, SMC provides training to approximately 17,000 health providers annually to strengthen their knowledge and skill in order to offer better over-the-counter services including counseling.

Use of cost effective and sustainable distribution models

Commission bicycle sales agents: Reaching contraceptives and life saving ORS to remote outlets within the country remains one of key distribution challenges for SMC. One such cost effective intiative that is being carried out in a limited scale is the use of commission bicycle sales agents to cover markets initially in hard to reach urban areas. The objective is to enhance the availability of Condom brands and ORS through pan and small grocery shops in Para/Mahallas/ narrow lanes in the peripheral areas of urban markets where our sales vans cannot reach nor does it make economic sense for SMC sales force to invest time to cover the outlets in those areas. These agents are attached to our sales officers or Area offices from where they purchase SMC products on cash and earn 8% commission on their sales. SMC provides them with bicycles against small collateral and decorates the cycle with product images and a carriage to hold the products. The model is already showing excellent results and will be expanded to other areas in future.

Community Sales Agents: Another model that is SMC is implementing in the MIH community Mobilization program areas is the use of female community sales agents to supply SMC commodities and earn commission on the sales. The sales agent is a volunteer from the community with a pre defined catchment area where she visits the households regularly and sells SMC contraceptives (condoms, emergency contraceptives and Progestin only pills), ORS, sanitary napkins, micro nutrient powder, Zinc and other products supplied by SMC and earns a margin on sales. If viable, this will enable to create a sustainable delivery source and also generate income for women in the community.

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