"Everyone can sell chocolate. Selling getting up, going to the gym and exercising every day takes a real marketing genius." Stephan Dahl
In the 1970s Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman discovered that the same principles that were being used to sell products and services to consumers could be used to 'sell', to the same people, attitudes, ideas and behaviours. Thus a new discipline was born - social marketing - with a background in both social sciences and policy and commercial and public sector marketing.
According to French & Blair-Stevens, social marketing can be defined as "the systematic application of marketing, alongside other concepts and techniques, to achieve specific behavioural goals, for a social cause." It can be differentiated from marketing as its efforts are directed towards a social good and not a financial gain. It has received, however, its fair share of criticism with claims that it is only interested in getting people to change their behaviour but not really caring how they do it.
The National Social Marketing Centre in the UK has produced an 8 point social marketing National Benchmark Criteria that is used to help encourage and promote greater consistency in the use and application of social marketing:
• Clear focus on behaviour and achieving specific behavioural goals
• Centred on understanding the customer using a variety of customer and market research
• Theory-based and informed
• 'Insight' driven
• Uses 'exchange' concept and analysis
• Uses 'competition' concept and analysis
• Has a more developed 'segmentation' approach (going beyond basic targeting)
• Utilizes an 'intervention mix' or 'marketing mix' (rather than relying on single methods)
Used mainly in the public sector and non-profits, social marketing is used for campaigns raging from health issues awareness, reducing smoking or traffic safety.
One of the questions from this week suggested that PR, a field with somewhat questionable ethics, should look and learn from social marketing. Because social marketing is somewhat of the marketing industry's conscience. But isn't that a bit paradoxical? Marketing is used to promote alcohol and cigarettes or cars that run at 200 km/h (and it is perfectly legal to do so), but then public institutions resort to social marketing, which was especially created as a discipline to ask people to stop drinking, smoking or exceeding the speed limit.
This is not to say that social marketing is not efficient or beneficial, because it most definitely is. But it is far from being the ethical high-ground to be used to guide related fields of practice. PR surely has a valuable lesson to learn from activism methods of generating change or social marketing approaches to dealing with the audience while reaching its socially beneficial aim. But in today's world, where boundaries between advertising, marketing and PR tend to get more and more blurred, public relations is probably better off not just learning from social marketing but by engaging and collaborating within change initiatives and campaigns, thus making a commendable contribution.
French, J, and Blair Stevens, C. (2005) Social Marketing Pocket guide (1st Edition) National Social Marketing Centre for Excellence, http://www.nsms.org.uk/
Kotler, P, Zaltman, G. (1971) Social Marketing: An Approach to Planned Social Change. Journal of Marketing 35:3-12.