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Social Marketing

By Tom Peterson

Smokey the Bear is the icon for preventing forest fires. (See him in action in this 1944 PSA and in an ad today.) But he could also serve as the poster child for social marketing.

In 2012 U.S. advertisers spent $140 billion, as Mary Pipher puts it, “convince us to buy stuff we mostly don’t need or want.” “Cigarettes and alcohol are depicted as refreshing. Ads miseducate our children about the nature of happiness, teaching them just the opposite of what all the world’s great religions teach… that to feel good you need to buy something you do not need,” says Pipher. She quotes George Carlin: “Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body.”

Noting that each of us sees or hears around 3,000 ads a day, Pipher asks us rather to imagine those messages encouraging us to: eat more fruits and vegetables, brush our teeth, call our great aunt, and behave kindly toward one another. What she’s talking about is called Social Marketing.

Besides marketing to raise funds for their mission, many nonprofits do social marketing to persuade people to do something to help society (and themselves).

We’ve all been impacted by social marketing campaigns that have urged us to buckle up for safety, say no to drugs, recycle, use condoms, not let friends drive drunk, eat more fruits and vegetables, keep America beautiful. Those that succeed create significant measurable progress in society.

What distinguishes Social Marketing

The best book is Social Marketing by Philip Kotler and Nancy Lee. They tell us that while traditional marketing sells products and services, social marketing sells behavior change:

• Focus on Behaviors
• Behavior Change is Typically Voluntary
• Use of Traditional Marketing Principals & Techniques
• Select and Influence a Target Market
• Primary Beneficiary is Society

One campaign they discuss in the book is the Save the Crabs, Then Eat ‘Em effort to clean up Chesapeake Bay. Here’s a blog post by Alexandra Rampy with a helpful overview of the subject with great links. Here’s an interview with Philip Kotler that gives an overview of Social Marketing.

And here’s Kotler on marketing in general:


Social Marketing External Links

The Ad Council has been “inspiring change, improving lives” for 70 years. Their site is packed with resources as is their blog AdLibbing.

Beautiful Trouble is more activist, not quite by the book in its approaches—maybe it’s social marketing 2.0?

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