This study examines diffusion theory as an explanatory framework for the adoption of an ecological toilet by ‘first-moving’ customers in an urban setting in Malawi. The study was conducted during the early stages of a social marketing programme. A pragmatic paradigm was applied to address three research questions using mixed methods. The qualitative investigation formed the primary component of the study and interviewed 14 customers who were selected to receive micro-finance loans to purchase the ecological toilet. These 14 customers were labelled ‘first movers’. The study identified that ‘first movers’ only partially displayed characteristics of ‘innovators’ and the product met three of five characteristics associated with successful rates of diffusion. Improving the trialability and simplicity of the product, through field-testing, human-centred or participatory design approaches could improve the likelihood of the product attaining the characteristics that support successful diffusion. Organisations that apply social marketing approaches to improve urban sanitation coverage may improve their efficacy, equity and cost-effectiveness by utilising diffusion theory as the theoretical framework to design, implement and evaluate their programmes.

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