Module 1: What is Social Marketing?

Social marketing emerged as a valuable commercial tactic in the 1970s, created by Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman.  The essential principle is that marketing ideologies used when selling consumer merchandise can also be applied to promote concepts, feelings, and behaviors.  Both marketing strategies aim to determine what people want and need and then cater to this, instead of attempting to convince the public to buy whatever the company happens to be selling.  Social marketing differs from consumer marketing in that it “seeks to influence social behaviors not to benefit the marketer, but to benefit the target audience and the general society.”(1)  This method has proven to be extremely effective for international health campaigns, such as encouraging contraceptives or the use of ORT. 

In consumer marketing, there are four key principles known as the “four P’s,” including “product, price, place, and promotion.”  These exist in social marketing also, along with four additional “P’s.”(2)  In social marketing, the “product” is not always a tangible object.  While sometimes it is physical (for example, distribution of contraceptives), it often comes in the form of providing a service, promoting a practice, or raising awareness about an idea.  The success of a product depends largely on public belief that there is a real problem, and that this new invention will help to solve the issue.  The “price” in social marketing refers to what the user must do to acquire the product (this could be financial cost, but is more likely a dedication of time, effort, or potential risk).  The benefits must be greater than the costs in order to be of significant value.  “Place” refers to the manner in which the merchandise reaches the buyer.  For tangible items, this means the method of dissemination (such as free distribution, trucks, stores, etc.), while for intangible items, this represents choices about how the information is spread (such as media use, training demonstrations, and public postings).  Researchers must observe the routine schedule of their market pool in order to identify the best way to convey their message.  “Promotion” is comprised of publicity, media support, personal sales techniques, and attention-grabbing ploys, all of which should concentrate on fostering and maintaining sufficient demand for the item.  The four additional “P’s” specific to social marketing are “publics” (internal and external groups involved with an organization), “partnership” (joining with other groups with common goals), “policy” (media advocacy organizations can sometimes supplement social marketing schemes if policy change is necessary), and “purse strings” (funding, grants and donations from various programs and the government are necessary to help fuel social marketing plans).(3)

Social Marketing in Action

Just as consulting can be helpful for commercial consumer marketing, social marketing also benefits from collaboration.  We inclue below a few examples of organizations that strive to help with the marketing of social behavior changes.

Turning Point Social Marketing National Excellence Collaborative

This network is comprised of public health authorities across the local, state and national sectors, all with goals for greater comprehension and application of social marketing in public health.  The collaborative team works to improve community health by developing effective, consumer-focused strategies, starting with a target audience to provide a framework for understanding their behavior and determining the most effective place to intervene.  Examples of social marketing successes in the US include Florida’s “Truth” campaign, which led to a 19% reduction in cigarette smoking middle school students in just one year.  Another accomplishment was North Carolina’s “Click it or Ticket” campaign, which resulted in a 17% increase in seatbelt use over just 13 months.  As Leah Devlin, State Health Director, Division of Public Health states,“with social marketing, you can have some truly improved outcomes.  Because it is evidence-based, based on what works, you have more effective use of resources.”(4)

Social marketing is an ever-evolving concept, and observing which approaches yield positive results with a certain audience can assist with making future strategies even more successful.  This group defines six critical phases of the social marketing process: “1. Define the public health problem being addressed, 2. Conduct market research and craft a market strategy, 3. Plan the intervention, 4. Plan program monitoring and evaluation, and 5. Implement and evaluate the intervention.”(5)  The Turning Point also works in concert with The Watson Group, a marketing communications agency that focuses on social marketing services for programs aiming to shift health behaviors and prevent violence.

National Center for Health Marketing

This program exists as a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Health marketing is defined by the Center as the “creating, communicating, and delivering of health information and interventions using customer-centered and science-based strategies to protect and promote the health of diverse populations.”(6)  Health marketing follows the previously mentioned framework of the “marketing mix”, including the same concepts of the Four P’s of traditional marketing (product, price, place, and promotion), yet tailored to different social demands.

The National Center for Health Marketing is consistently working on many projects at once.  Current projects include the “Get smart campaign” (promoting appropriate antibiotic use), “One test, Two lives” (to ensure that all women are tested for HIV early in their pregnancy), and “Choose your cover” (a skin cancer prevention campaign), along with dozens of others.  For example, a recent CDC intervention was implemented among the African American population in Portland, Oregon, aiming to increase cardiovascular health via communication, training, and advertising.  Through community systems and connections such as health centers, schools, and local venues, the citizens were able to improve their health.  This particular health intervention was part of the greater REACH U.S. program (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health Across the U.S.), which addresses health disparities between ethnicities throughout all stages of life.  The organization has established creative techniques that center on racial and ethnic enclaves.  Target groups include African Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Asian Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders.  REACH communities enable and encourage residents to “(1) seek better health; (2) help change local health care practices; and (3) mobilize communities to implement evidence-based public health programs that address their unique social, historical, economic, and cultural circumstances.”(7)

National Social Marketing Centre

This center exists as a partnership between the Department of Health in England and Consumer Focus, working with programs of all sectors to develop ways to promote socially responsible behaviors.  The center was established as part of the English government’s National Social Marketing Strategy for Health, set in motion after a study showing how social marketing can drastically improve the success of health campaigns on both national and local scales.  Their main clients consist of “those working at the consumer end of health promotion: those in the PCTs, NHS, SHAs, PHOs and local authorities,” in addition to collaborating with the Chartered Institute of Marketing and the Marketing and Sales Standards Setting Body to establish a set of standards for social marketing consultants.   The National Social Marketing Center strives to assist anyone creating behavior interventions “for a social good.”(8)

Go To Module 2: Social Marketing at the Base of the Pyramid >>


(1) Weinreich, N.  “What is Social Marketing?” Weinreich Communications (2006). 

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid.

(4) The Turning Point Social Marketing National Excellence Collaborative, The Watson Group.

(5) Ibid.

(6) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Health Marketing.”  Department of Health and Human Services, (2006). 

(7) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “REACH U.S.”  CDC, (2010). 

(8) National Social Marketing Centre, (2010).