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Social Marketing

Social marketing originates in response to the pressures of the political climate in the 1960’s to attend to social issues and to the creation of nonprofit organizations that utilizes marketing as an effective tool (Elliott, 1991). Social marketing derives from theories of consumption and human behavior, and from the disciplines of marketing and advertising. It consists of placing into practice standard techniques such as market segmentation and formative research to promote social behavior. One of the definitions of social marketing states that it is “the adaptation of commercial market technologies to programs designed to influence voluntary behavior of target audience to improve their personal welfare and that of the society of which they are a part” (Andreasen, 1994).

Social marketing mirrors advertising campaign objectives, which consist of making a product visible, with public awareness of its benefits and costs. The emphasis should be on changing behavior, more than the diffusion of ideas or altering attitudes. Changing behavior is the core of social market, for some of its theorists, and is what distinguishes it from education and propaganda. In the United States it is used in a myriad of public information campaigns such as smoking cessation, seat belt use, and drug and alcohol issues, among others. In developing countries social marketing is utilized to promote breast-feeding, immunization programs, family planning, etc. (Waisbord, 2001).

Comparing social marketing with marketing, accusations of manipulation and deceit are some of the criticisms of this approach. Some of the criticism is also directed towards the utilitarian ethical model implemented by social marketing, where the end justifies the means (Buchanan, Reddy, & Hossain, 1994).
Advocates of social marketing rebutted these arguments stating that the methods utilized are not intrinsically good or bad and that judgment should be subject to the goals they are suppose to achieve. They also contest the notion that campaigns have the ability to manipulate people, which they say is unfounded. According to social marketing proponents, the fact that campaigns need to be tailored according to the local socio-cultural and moral values, along with the resistance encountered by some campaigns, attest to the inability of audience manipulation by the campaigns (Waisbord, 2001).

Because social marketing subscribes to the ‘trickle-down” approach of transmission of information it is highly criticized by participatory theorists. They argue that the social marketing approach excludes the community from the discussion and that their goal is to persuade people to engage in behaviors that were previously defined to them (Beltrán, 1976). Answering these criticisms, social marketing theorists respond that the utilization of input from targeted audiences coming from focus groups and in-depth interviews represents the emphasis on the consumer and not on the experts (Novelli, 1990).



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