Ron Smith's Teaching Notes on ...

Social Marketing


Updated Spring 2016 as a supplement to Professor Smith's textbooks
Strategic Planning for Public Relations and Becoming a Public Relations Writer, (Routledge/Taylor and Francis).


Aspects of public relations, advertising, and marketing are being jointly applied to many social issues and causes under the banner of Social Marketing, sometimes called Cause Marketing. This is a planned process to influence change via communication and relationships. It is a conscious attempt to integrate strategic communication processes and tools to promote ideas, issues, and concerns, in much the same way that organizations traditionally have promoted products and servicdes.


Social Marketing


"The design, implementaion, and control of programs seeking to increase the acceptability of a social idea or practice in a target group."  Definition by Philip Kotler, the "father" of social marketing. From Kotler, Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations (1975)  


Segmented/target publics


Permission-granting publics

Supportive publics

Opposition publics

Evaluation publics

Sensitive issues


Mutual Benefits

Triggering event

Positive v/ negative message (i.e. fear appeal)

Partnerships, alliances & coalitions




cause is a desirable social objective.


campaign is an organized effort conducted by organization/group/alliance (change agent) that intends to persuade others (target public/adopters) to accept, modify or abandon certain ideas, attitudes, practices or behaviors (change strategy)



Public Education v/ Social Marketing


Public education focuses on a awareness, providing information about an issue or on a theme


Social marketing or social change deals with behavior (awareness, acceptance, and action) for the purpose of social change

The ultimate objective of social marketing is to affect behavior


Historic Examples

Abolish debtor prison (England during the Industrial Revolution)

Abolition of slavery in US

Child Labor

Civil rights

Peace movement

Smallpox inoculations


Women's Suffrage


Contemporary Examples



Binge drinking

Cancer self-examination

Cholesterol control

Death penalty

Drug abuse

Environmental reform


McGruff, the crime-fighting dog

Metric system

Nutrition, fitness & dieting

Organ donors


Same-sex marriage

Seat belts

Smokey Bear

Teen pregnancy



Favorable Ingredients for Social Marketing


Media monopoly or media access (no contrary messages)

Reinforcement of pre-existing attitudes

Interpersonal supplement to mass media



Difference Between Social Marketing & Product Marketing


Marketing acceptable in commercial transaction; not always in public sector

Cost not always in dollar terms

Political dimension usually is present in social marketing, including opposition

Product/service use/avoidance often not desired by target public

Marketing efforts toward both clients & funding sources

Increased demand not always desirable; resources may be scarce


Social change campaigns often fail because...

Hard core of "chronic know-nothings" who cannot be reached

Audience apathy (interest must predate response)

Audiences do not believe the benefit outweighs the "cost of adoption"

Selectivity (avoiding disagreeable info)

Selectivity (interpretation based on bias)

Inappropriate media mix

Campaign fails to take into account the existence of competition, opposition and alternatives

Behavior targeted for change often rooted in culture, family, religion, ethnicity and other traditions



Theory Base for Social Marketing


Though there are many examples throughout history of persuasive campaigns toward social goals, the discipline of social marketing is attributed to Philip Kotler who, with Gerald Zaltman, articulated the concept in the 1970s.


Books by Philip Kotler

Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations

Social Marketing: Strategies for Changing Public Behavior

Social Marketing: Improving the Quality of Life