Social Marketing

Social marketing is the use of commercial marketing principles and techniques to improve the welfare of people and the physical, social and economic environment in which they live. It is a carefully planned, long-term approach to changing human behavior.

Social marketing seeks to develop and integrate marketing concepts with other approaches to social change. Social marketing aims to influence behaviours that benefit individuals and communities for the greater social good. The goal is to deliver competition-sensitive and segmented social change programs that are effective, efficient, equitable and sustainable

What social marketing is not?

Social marketing shouldn’t be confused with social media marketing, for example using Facebook and Twitter. Social media is simply a tool or channel that is sometimes used within social marketing.

Why rely on a social marketing approach?

  • Impacts a significant portion of the priority population
  • Facilitates active behavior change over a period of time
  • Stimulates change with limited resources
  • Develops creative ideas
  • Community partnerships become assets that compensate for limited funds
  • Elevates the voice of the priority population and increases community identification
  • Influences policy and promotes positive social change

Social marketing uses the same collection of tools to “sell” healthy behaviour that are used to sell jeans. There are four basic principles of commercial marketing. They are referred to as the “4 Ps”.

P1 – Product is what you are marketing. In social marketing the product is a behavior change or a shift in attitude. For example, a campaign may be designed to increase condom use or to convince adolescents that spreading rumours is harmful or dangerous.

P2 – Price is the cost. In social marketing, price is the cost of changing behaviours. It is difficult to price the personal costs of using a condom when the individual commits to a new behavior that had been identified as inconvenient, time consuming and embarrassing. The goal of social marketing is to re-frame the recommended behavior change so that the consumer realizes that the benefits of change outweigh the efforts or costs.

P3 – Place is where and how the priority population can be reached. In social marketing ,  place represents all efforts to make the behavior change as easy as possible to a consumer. It might mean offering free or inexpensive condoms at convenient locations (i.e. schools, bars, or restrooms) or changing a clinic schedule to accommodate busy students.

P4 – Promotion is the ways used to notify the public about the change messages. Advertising is just one method to achieve this goal. A promotion campaign includes incorporating messages about the recommended behavior change into all existing programs in the community in order to reinforce the message on multiple levels.

Social marketing employs a fifth P that is not included in the commercial campaigns. This special component of social marketing is:

P5 – Policy is the intent to influence policy that will not be punitive but will promote positive behavior change.


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