Social Marketing

Government agencies often address social issues using slogans. These slogans aim to change the behavior of certain individual groups of society positively. This is known as social marketing. But why is it important, and is it effective?

Social Marketing Social Marketing

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    You'll find the answers to these questions and more by getting to the bottom of this explanation!

    Social Marketing Definition

    The subfield of marketing, defined as social marketing, operates to raise awareness of social issues or issues of widespread interest. Social marketing primarily appeals to customers' sense of social responsibility.

    Unfortunately, many people follow harmful behaviors and habits. Reformers, nonprofit leaders, educators, and company directors might want to help people develop and maintain positive behaviors.

    Social marketing is designing, executing, and monitoring programs to impact the acceptance of social causes. It includes planning, pricing, communication, distribution, and market research.

    Social marketing is a combination of marketing and social sciences to influence behavior. Ideally, social marketing will influence customer behavior to benefit individuals and society.

    Companies that use this strategy don't strive to change how people think to further their interests; instead, they focus on fostering societal transformation. Using social marketing strategies enables businesses to positively contribute to the society in which they operate.

    In contrast to commercial marketing, social marketing is centered on finding solutions to issues that occur in the real world. It intends to do so via inducing awareness, altering behavior, and contributing to improving the environment in which people live.

    Social Marketing Examples

    Social marketing examples include public health and safety, education, environmentalism, city beautification, and urban renewal initiatives. Government agencies widely use social marketing to try and address different types of social issues.

    For example, many social marketing initiatives have dissuaded young people from experimenting with drugs. Other popular initiatives convinced the public of the dangers of drunk driving and not wearing seatbelts. Around the United States, many people can recall famous slogans and taglines from these social marketing initiatives, going back to the oldest example - Smokey Bear.

    Smokey Bear Only You, Wikimedia CommonsFig. 2 - Smokey Bear Only You

    Smokey Bear of the U.S. Forest Service famously told Americans, "Only you can prevent forest fires!". At the time of the campaign's inception in the mid-1940s, forest fires were commonly caused by careless people tossing cigarettes and other smoldering trash into wooded areas. The simple, famous slogan helped remind millions that their smoldering debris and campfires could cause raging wildfires.

    Although natural forest fires can be necessary for ecosystems, it has been invaluable for people to be mindful of their use of flames near wooded areas.

    "Say no to drugs" is another prominent social marketing campaign, accompanied by other famous slogans.

    "Friends don't let friends drive drunk" became popular in the early 1980s and helped reduce the incidence of drinking and driving.

    This later evolved into a social marketing campaign to normalize the use of a designated driver, or a DD, in groups of partygoers. Driver safety was also enhanced by states and municipalities using the catchy "click it or ticket" social marketing campaign.

    Cities also helped reduce waste by promoting conservation and recycling through "reduce, reuse, recycle".

    These campaigns all promoted healthy behaviors using catchy slogans and the inclusion of all sectors of the public.

    Social Marketing Concept

    The concept behind social marketing is changing behaviors through consistent positive reinforcement.

    Recipients of social marketing campaigns are encouraged to do something good rather than be criticized for doing something terrible. Another part of the concept is simplicity: the encouraged behavior must be simple to explain and perform.

    When it comes to slogans, complexity quickly leads to people tuning out the message. Simple phrases like "only you can prevent forest fires" are easily understood, help the reader or viewer feel empowered, and can be easily accomplished. People can safely dispose of their campfire ashes, cigarette butts, or flammable trash to feel good about themselves.

    "Friends don't let friends drive drunk" takes a similar approach. The message is clear and straightforward, and recipients of the campaign feel empowered when they do not let a friend drive away from a party or bar while intoxicated. The slogan confirms that you are a true friend and are protecting a fellow friend.

    Over time, it helps replace the societal concept of someone trying to take a friend's car keys as an interfering busybody with that of a friend who cares about one's safety.

    "Say no to drugs" is a third example of the concept. It is straightforward and non-judgmental, as it does not criticize people for drugs they might have used in the past. Repetition will help reinforce the message. People can choose positive behavior at any time by saying no to drugs.

    Social Marketing Approach

    The social marketing approach defines how effective a social marketing campaign is.

    Social marketing focuses on concrete, simple individual behaviors and changing social norms.

    Social marketers want to identify simple behavioral changes that can have meaningful impacts on health, safety, performance, and society overall. Trying to change multiple behaviors at once is unlikely to be successful, so it is essential to be strategic in determining which individual behavior changes will have a positive impact.

    On the surface, social marketers use simple messaging to appeal to the mass public. This can include television commercials, radio ads, Internet ads, and posters.

    Through media, social marketers focus on emotional impact and emphasize the simplicity of the desired behavior.

    Regarding "friends don't let friends drive drunk," social marketers can be impactful by showing the trauma caused by a friend driving drunk. Social marketers can also depict how taking the friend's car keys and calling them a ride could have saved lives and prevented the trauma. By showing that simple action could have prevented the disaster, many recipients of social marketing may eventually be convinced to change their behaviors.

    Social marketers can make an emotional impact by presenting brief accounts from trauma survivors, such as family members of drug users, drunk drivers, or those injured by wildfires. Marketers can add simple statistics of the prevalence of the problem to emotional statements to increase impact. Viewers are more likely to act if they understand that the problem is widespread and not isolated.

    Social marketers should also have additional information ready to present to overcome skeptics. In their simple messaging, they can state that "more information can be found at" and list their web address or publication. Some viewers may check out the information and be convinced to adjust their behaviors.

    Viewers may also inspire them to warn friends, families, and colleagues about the problem. Ultimately, this mass mobilization of public awareness helps change social norms permanently. An example would be the reduced social acceptance of alcohol and tobacco use.

    Prior to social marketing campaigns about the harms of drunk driving and tobacco use, it was much more common for people to engage in those harmful behaviors.2

    Importance of Social Marketing

    Social marketing is essential because it encourages positive behavioral changes more successfully than mandates.3 By engaging with the public in a gentle and non-confrontational manner, there is less risk of backlash and firm resistance.

    Had public service announcements about the dangers of drug use, tobacco use, and alcohol abuse been overtly hostile to those who engaged in those behaviors, those individuals might have felt the need to continue those behaviors in rebellion. Viewers are more likely to listen neutrally or positively when not faced with criticism. Over time, this neutral engagement may become positive action.

    Framing social marketing as an attempt to help individuals live better and healthier lives is also essential. People may not want to adjust their behavior to benefit strangers but likely care more about the effects on friends and loved ones. The gentle, positive messaging also gives viewers the ability to feel empowered that they chose the favorable option. Demands that people change their behavior may be less successful because people do not feel ownership over their changed behavior. People who think they have a choice are likelier to stick with their decision and maintain that behavior.

    Social marketing can lead to lasting changes by causing social norms to evolve positively. As standards change, peer pressure leads many to adopt these positive behaviors to avoid social sanction or criticism. Eventually, the social marketing campaign becomes a permanent success once the new social norms are adopted. The public adopts the desired behavior widely, and further reinforcement is needed less frequently.

    For example, people automatically seek designated drivers, Uber rides, or public transportation instead of choosing to drive while intoxicated.

    Similarly, people automatically know to make sure their campfires are no longer smoking, not to toss their cigarette butts into the dry brush, and not to set casual fires without safety precautions. Thanks to social marketing, we have fewer negative behaviors in our society!

    Social Marketing - Key takeaways

    • Social marketing is designing, executing, and monitoring programs to impact social concept acceptance.
    • Social marketing examples include public health and safety, education, environmentalism, city beautification, and urban renewal initiatives.
    • The concept behind social marketing is changing behaviors through consistent positive reinforcement.
    • Social marketing focuses on concrete, simple individual behaviors and changing social norms.
    • Social marketing uses simple messaging to appeal to the mass public through television commercials, radio ads, Internet ads, and posters.

    References

    1. Fig. 2 - Smokey Bear Only You, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Uncle_Sam_style_Smokey_Bear_Only_You.jpg
    2. Young, Ben, Sarah Lewis, Srinivasa Vittal Katikireddi, Linda Bauld, Martine Stead, Kathryn Angus, Mhairi Campbell et al. Effectiveness of mass media campaigns to reduce alcohol consumption and harm: a systematic review. 2018. https://academic.oup.com/alcalc/article-abstract/53/3/302/4796878
    3. Petrescu, Dodu Gheorghe, Laura Carina Tribus, Raluca Raducu, and Victor Lorin Purcarea. Social marketing and behavioral change. 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8207857/
    Frequently Asked Questions about Social Marketing

    What is social marketing?

    Social marketing is designing, executing, and monitoring programs to impact social concept acceptance. 

    What is an example of social marketing?

    Social marketing examples include public health and safety, education, environmentalism, city beautification, and urban renewal initiatives.

    What are the key concepts of social marketing?

    The concept behind social marketing is changing behaviors through consistent positive reinforcement. 

    What is the importance of social marketing?

    Social marketing is essential because it encourages positive behavioral changes more successfully than mandates.

    What are the types of social marketing?

    The types of social marketing include television commercials, radio ads, Internet ads, and posters.  

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    The subfield of marketing, defined as "social marketing", operates to raise awareness of social issues or issues of popular interest. 

    A slogan saying “only you can prevent forest fires” is an example of _______.

    Which of the following is not an example of social marketing

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