New key message for Global Handwashing Day

An assignment for my communications in practice class asked us to create a new key message for the Global Handwashing Day organization. Global Handwashing day occurs on October 15th every year and was started to teach people to use soap and wash to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Here are my analysis and suggestions.

KEY MESSAGE: “Wash Yes, Germs No!”

The original purpose of the Global Handwashing Day campaign was to promote washing hands with soap and water in order to “prevent diseases like diarrhea and respiratory infections, which take the lives of millions of children each year” (Wheeler, p.244).

The key message in 2017 was “Our hands, our future!” (Global Handwashing website). This message does not fully tie in with the underlying message that handwashing saves lives—that handwashing prevents the spreads of illness. I don’t see a new message yet for 2018, even on their (sterile — pun intended) website.

I think a message of “clean hands save lives” would be extremely powerful. Unfortunately, the organization Clean Hands Saves Lives already exists to promote handwashing among healthcare workers to prevent the spread of illness.

The GHD Twitter and Facebook accounts currently have no hashtags in the bio sections. As such, it is not leveraging the power of social media to spread its message. It has only 1,405 followers on Twitter, even though it could benefit from getting more donations to its organization.

Its tweets and posts do stay on message—that good hygiene saves lives. For example, a tweet on April 3, 2018, reads: “More than half of healthcare facilities in low- and middle-income countries lack basics, like soap for handwashing. As a result, many health workers cannot deliver essential health services…” (GHD Twitter account).

UNICEF is teaching the importance of handwashing in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus (UNICEF press release, 2014). And, in 2014, Global Handwashing Day was used in those countries to underscore that effort (UNICEF, 2014).

Rather than a key message of “Our hands, our future”, I propose a key message of “Wash Yes, Germs No!” This message returns to the roots of Global Handwashing Day, as well as defines what the organization means by “our future”—a future in which children’s lives are saved by preventing the spread of illness through handwashing.

According to Debbie Wetherhead (2011), a key message must be: 

  • Concise
  • Strategic
  • Relevant
  • Compelling
  • Simple
  • Memorable
  • Real
  • Tailored

“Wash Yes, Germs No!” is short and sweet. It is strategic in that it addresses the value of handwashing—that it kills germs. The message of “Our hands, our future” does not define the value of handwashing. That message is too enigmatic and leaves the audience wondering what hands have to do with the future.

“Wash Yes, Germs No!” is relevant in that the audience needs to know to wash their hands with soap and water on Global Handwashing Day. Even though that point seems obvious, “Our Hands, Our Future” does not make that point clear.

“Wash Yes, Germs No!” is compelling. It provokes the audience to take action, especially when combined with examples of how clean hands prevent the spread of illness. “Our Hands, Our Future” does not compel the audience to take action.

“Wash Yes, Germs No!” is simple and memorable. It is a sentence of four short, simple words that are easy to say.

“Wash Yes, Germs No!” is real. It is active. It is not kitschy. It does not sound like a brand. And yet it is also not an exhortation to “go wash your hands, young lady!” You don’t hear your mom yelling at you, nor a healthcare worker reprimanding you. It is a reminder to take action of your own volition, to do your part to help yourself and those around you.

“Wash Yes, Germs No!” is tailored and easily translatable. While “Wash Yes, Germs No!” is most tailored to kids, it still works for any age group, in any culture, with any audience. The phrase can be translated into French, a common language in Africa, as, Laver oui, germes non!” It can be translated into Spanish as, “Limpiar sí, germes no!” It can be translated into Portuguese as “Lavar sim, germes não!” Of course, I would hire professional translators to perfect the translations!

I would use the hashtag #WashYesGermsNo on social media, especially Twitter, to promote the campaign—starting immediately. I would share tweets daily, ideally several times a day. Currently GHD tweets and posts only monthly. I would share success stories from past Global Handwashing Days, and I would make suggestions for how individuals, cities, and organizations can take actions this coming Global Handwashing Day. I would also share ways people can make donations to the organization—and how GHD will use the money to support the cause.


Global Handwashing Day Facebook account.

Global Handwashing Day Twitter account.

Global Handwashing Day website.

“Handwashing One Important Tool in the Ebola Fight — UNICEF.” Press Release. October 15, 2014. UNICEF.

Wetherhead, Debbie. “Key Message Development: Building a Foundation for Effective Communications.” December 2, 2011. Public Relations Society of America.

Wheeler, Alina (2013). Designing Brand Identity. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Kelly Smith