The History Current Controversies and Future Directions Of “Social Marketing” Essay Sample

Social marketing is the term that was at first defined by Kotler and Zaltman (1971) to mean “the design, execution, and control of programs calculated to influence the adequacy of social ideas and concerning considerations of product planning, pricing, communications and marketing research” (p. 5 ). The use of the word “influence” is significant. It suggests that social marketing is just one set of forces that can be set in motion to mutate beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours. It also entails much less (sinister) power than words such as “influence” and “control.”

Social marketing rests on the postulations that there are behaviours worth changing and that it is society’s accountability to help people make the right choices. The consent on both of these propositions is corroding. Social marketing is, after all, a robust technology of behaviour change. Hardly perfect, but notable in its strategic coherence, nonetheless. But the political consent that supported and funded much work is falling apart. Even for those who do not rely completely on public funds, access to public funds made some of the best and most significant work possible.

The global family planning community has been one of the implementation pioneers of the social marketing field–millions of dollars have been devoted in the social marketing of fertility choice, and products that make the choice probable, even for some of the poorest women and families in the world. in the same way, U.S. government support for child survival, a 15-year agreement that 6 million children need not die every year in developing countries, a devotion that produced striking declines in infant mortality due to diarrheal dehydration and immunizable diseases, is being gnarled in a desperate attempt to balance the budget and restrain government.

A domestic cut in public programs, abolition of government agencies, and the divestiture of federal responsibility to the States is change the environment in which social marketing was born and has grown. How to adapt is really the question of the day.

Social marketing has two particular places in the study of information, behaviour, and systems of influence. First, social marketing can be conceptualized as a set of flexible, information feedback stratagems for solving problems (Novelli, 1984). Second, social marketing is becoming acknowledged as an essential, overarching framework for virtually any endeavour entailing change in human behaviour.

Social marketing can be interpreted as a process in the acceptance of an innovation, but a procedure that followed a somewhat irregular, though perhaps, typical course. This course can be described as a felt need, revelation, rejection, re-felt need, re-exposure, trial, initial acceptance, and final adoption (Taylor, V. 1990).

After a decade of doing numerous schools, organizational, and community-based, behavioural involvement projects, it was apparent that some of these projects were exceptionally successful, whereas others were failures. This classification does not necessarily openly correspond to the strength of the involvement, i.e., amount of behaviour change. various projects that resulted in rational change were poorly received by project participants and requisite enormous effort by the author and project staff to be successful. Success that needs a tremendous degree of effort, perhaps never to be duplicated by anyone else, at the least, needs examination on the scientific grounds of external validity.

Other projects seemed to need some “hit or miss” tactics until a feasible approach was found (Tannahill, A. 1985). Detailed credible, newspaper stories fast resulted in many people inquisitive about the project. Other approaches to participant recruitment were developed based on these experiences, and they often were very thriving. at times recruitment involved door-to-door personal contact, and other times they involve meetings at work sites on work time. Though methods of recruitment were being developed, the techniques were approximately too empirical and not tied to any larger framework ( Winett, Neale, & Williams, 1979).

Other projects and services were purely offered to the public in what can be called a seller or product state of mind. That is, the program was such a great idea that it must create its own demand. The best way to sum up the results of some of these offerings is: “What if you gave a party, and nobody came?” Literally, some programs, and workshops for example, intended for 40 people were attended by 4 people.

At this point, a colleague, Dr. M. J. Sirgy from the Department of Marketing, attempted to bring in the author and other psychologists to social marketing. Although Dr. Sirgy was himself a psychologist and “not actually a business type,” this initial exposure was not successful. The reasons for refusing social marketing at this point were its associations with foreign fields such as business and comprehensive manipulation (of course, similar and worse things had been attributed to behavior modification). The complete approach and its values appeared to be in a diverse realm.

Rothman, Teresa, Kay, and Morningstar (1983) have noted that social marketing and dispersion research are practically one and the same, yet professed value differences have kept these fields quite separate:

While the fields have been separate, approximately airtight in their compartmentalization, their objectives and several of their methods overlap. . . . Both are concerned with the dissemination and consumption of innovations–new products, techniques, ideas, programs. The distinction is that the diffusion people approach their subject from a humanistic or non-profit point of view, as the social marketing writers draw upon a body of literature that initially had overriding profit-making motivations. The differences have made close similarities appear to be distant incompatibilities . . . the techniques and methods developed in the marketing field can be applied, as well, to social causes, social movements and benevolent organizations. At that point diffusion and social marketing as areas of study meld. (p. 10)

Perhaps social marketers, persuaded of the utility and efficiency of their approach, need to focus on how to market social marketing. One suggestion is to originally call it something else. These points, though, are getting ahead of the story.

Social marketing has developed from business practices in which a ‘product’ and ‘sales’ orientation have been superseded by a ‘consumer’ one (Smithies, J. and Adams, L., with Webster, G. and Beattie, A. 1990). That is, businesses are now more probable to focus on consumers’ desires and needs and trying to convene them than they are on simply producing whatever they like and then trying to persuade consumers to buy it. In health promotion the similar process has been from a more usual ‘top-down’ approach in which authorities prescribe, or proscribe, health and social behaviours, and perhaps launch information campaigns to prop up the programmes, to ‘bottom-up’ efforts where the needs and wants of the people are enthusiastically solicited, attended to, and acted upon in programme planning, delivery, management, and estimate. At its most simple, social marketing is a consumer-orientated approach that forms ‘win-win’ situations for all parties. Yet, it is a very methodical approach to health and social issues that is limited only by the thoughts of the social marketing programme (Lefebvre, R. C., Lasater, T. M., Carleton, R. C., and Peterson, G. 1986).

With this overview of social marketing, it is also significant to state what it is not. Social marketing is not social control; it is not persistent only on changing individuals’ beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours; it is not purely mass media campaigns; and it is not easy. Social marketing is a method of authorizing people to be completely involved and accountable for their well-being; a problem-solving process that can suggest new and pioneering ways to attack health and social problems (Manoff 1985; Novelli 1984); it is a comprehensive strategy for completing social change on a broad scale (Lefebvre and Flora 1988); and it needs careful planning, research, and management to employ effectively.

Social marketing is the trade of an intangible for an intangible: accepting a new idea and discarding an old custom or accepting a new behaviour and giving up a habit. It is not easy, nor desirable, to try and give financial value to these types of transactions (Kotler, P. and Bloom, P. N. 1984). though, social marketers should recognize that different economies still come into play as a consumer considers the costs and benefits of, for example, quitting smoking or using condoms. Consumers pay a price in terms of the time it acquires to learn new information or practice new behaviours; they expend cognitive and physical effort; they risk estranging family members and friends when adopting new ideas and practices; and they can be perceived by the community-at-large as being ‘different’.

Public health agencies, conversely, often do not assess their resources appropriately to ease such exchanges. Whether it is their financial resources, technical expertise, their ideas, products, or services, these agencies often undervalue their value. The tendency to ‘give it away’ needs to be examined. The image of a consumer saying ‘Why should I if they don’t think it’s that valuable?’ has to be addressed by social marketers before the question is really asked (Slavin, H. and Chapman, V. 1985).

Social marketing entails consumers exchanging resources for new beliefs and behaviours. It is not a simple task to describe this exchange tangibly, but it often does not need to be done. Numerous social marketing programmes become so focused on ‘making the intangible tangible’ through product and service development joined with strong advertising campaigns that it is often unseen that exchanges can still be effected in the cognitive domain alone. The strategy is to form awareness among consumers that they have a problem and then offer the solution (Lefebvre, R. C. 1990).

Commercial marketers have long employed this strategy as they productively sell everything from soap to deodorants to automobiles. The problem can relate to possible social disapproval or to lowered sense of worth. It may also appeal to more positive benefits such as greater self-assurance and success.

Social marketers sometimes proffer solutions to problems that are not well defined for the average consumer. Marketers can take for granted that people are responsive of the pervasiveness and lethality of certain health risks and pose new information and behavioural prescriptions without answering the consumer’s basic question: ‘What’s the benefit to me?’ As costs often become the marketers’ prime concern in developing a programme it might be the other side of the equation – the benefits – that are of at least equal significance to the consumer. Most consumer behaviour theory suggests that it is the virtual balance of costs and benefits that leads a consumer to accept a new idea, behaviour, product, or service. as it is significant to reduce costs to the consumer to make health accessible to them, it is the supposed benefits that will determine consumer’s motivation to access these resources and change (Kotler, P. and Roberto, E. L. 1989).

As, it is maximizing these benefits, and communicating them obviously to consumers in ways that are consequential to them, that distinguishes good social marketing practice. Well-crafted marketing programmes meet both consumer needs and organizational objectives (win-win) (Williams, G. and Aspin, D. 1980).

Social marketing is acquiring much attention from public health professionals with an accompanying enthusiasm that it proffers a new ‘magic bullet’ with which we can address social and health problems. as there are many success stories as to how social marketing principles led to considerable and impressive results, it must also be accepted that these case studies lack the severity of empirical investigations. Thus, while promising, one cannot – nor should not – propose that social marketing is the health promoter’s panacea. Numerous questions still remain. There are numerous research questions that require to be addressed in social marketing (McGraw, ET al 1989). What is most unfortunate about this state of affairs is that it has changed very little since Bloom and Novelli (1981) surveyed the area. Some of the issues and questions they raised then have received scant attention since; amongst the more salient are:

The difficulty in funding and carrying out consumer research studies in a timely fashion.

The lack of behavioural data on which to base segmentation strategy, and the associated challenge that few data are available as to which segmentation strategies are most right for specific target behaviours.

The formulation of messages, products, and services is loaded by the intangible quality of much of what health promotion is endeavouring to market and the scientific, social, and political framework of many problems that need compromise, and at worst inaction, on significant health concerns.

In the area of pricing, the force is on social marketers only to reduce costs, due in part to the lack of information and models concerning how consumers view costs and benefits linked with health primitive behaviours.

The difficulties associated with utilizing intermediaries for much of our work, again due to a lack of understanding as to how to employ incentives properly to ensure co-operation and maintenance of quality.

Communication strategies that are often driven by needs to communicate relatively large amounts of information but are constrained on such complete disclosures because of the nature of preferred media (i.e. television), the seclusion of paid advertising due to resource limitations, and pressures not to use certain types of appeals or ‘tell the entire story’. (Whitehead, M. 1999)

It is conveyed together the practitioners of the art of social marketing with the scientists who can test and appraise the approach that is the critical need at this time. Such a partnership needs that agencies who fund research look towards a more balanced portfolio in which the more ‘pure’ investigational studies (such as are found in much basic and clinical research) are balanced by the more ‘dirty’ work of understanding in the real world framework how to translate new scientific knowledge into messages, products, and services that will develop the health and well-being of people everywhere. Social marketing may give the type of strategic and practical tools with which Health For All can be achieved; it is present on each of us to assure that it is applied suitably and wisely.


Bloom, P. N. and Novelli, W. D. (1981) ‘Problems and challenges of social marketing’, Journal of Marketing 45: 79-88.

Flora, J. A., Lefebvre, R. C., Murray, D. M., Stone, E. J., Assaf, A., Mittelmark, M., and Finnegan, J. R. (1993) ‘A community education monitoring system: methods from the Stanford Five-City Project, the Minnesota Heart Health Program, and the Pawtucket Heart Health Program’, Health Education Research: Theory and Practice 8 (1): 81-95.

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Lefebvre, R. C., Lasater, T. M., Carleton, R. C., and Peterson, G. (1986) ‘Theory and practice of health programming in the community: the Pawtucket Heart Health Program’, Preventive Medicine 16: 80-95.

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Slavin, H. and Chapman, V. (1985) The Application of Models of Health Education to Health Visitor Training and Practice, 1st International Conference of Health Education in Nursing, Health Visiting and Midwifery, Harrogate, 23 May 1985.

Smithies, J. and Adams, L., with Webster, G. and Beattie, A. (1990) Community Participation in Health Promotion, HEA.

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Whitehead, M. (1989) Swimming Upstream: Trends and Prospects in Education and Health, London: King’s Fund Institute.

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