Audience Dialogue

Social marketing and social change

This page describes Audience Dialogue's approach to promoting social change: our view of the problems with social marketing, and our preference for a more participative marketing approach, similar to that known as Communication for Social Change (CFSC for short).

Let's begin with social marketing. Most of its practitioners agree that it does not involve selling products or services. With social marketing (unlike commercial marketing), people are not persuaded to spend money, but to change their behaviour - to stop smoking, to avoid AIDS by practising safe sex, to use public transport, and so on.

Alan Andreasen, one of the founders of the social marketing concept, posed the question "How is social marketing distinguished from commercial marketing?" (This was in the March 2002 issue of the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing.) He suggested six ways in which social marketing is different:

  1. The ultimate purpose of social marketing is changing people's behaviour (not selling a product or service).
  2. Audience research is used to understand target audiences, to pretest interventions, and to monitor results.
  3. Target audiences are "carefully segmented" to ensure maximum efficiency of the marketing campaign.
  4. The main element of any influence strategy is to create attractive and motivating exchanges with target audiences.
  5. The strategy uses all 4 Ps (product, price, place, promotion) not just advertising (promotion).
  6. The competition to the desired behaviour is studied closely.

Some counter-arguments and qualifications from us at Audience Dialogue, taking each point in turn...

  1. The ultimate purpose of social marketing is changing people's behaviour.
    Isn't this what they used to call "propaganda," as practised in Nazi Germany and the former Soviet Union? And how about the very effective "Kill the Tutsis" radio campaign in Rwanda in 1994: wasn't that an example of effective social marketing? The ethical implications of this approach scare us. Since one person's good cause can be another person's genocide, and the marketing industry has never been renowned for its ethics, maybe this "ultimate purpose" statement needs to be rewritten, with an emphasis on informed choice rather than behaviour change. How about this: "Giving people information that they can use to improve their communities." At least then they can argue about what "improve" means. And this makes it clear that the wanted change need not be in their own behaviour. (Often, it's the system that needs changing, not the individuals.)
  2. Audience research is used to understand target audiences, to pretest interventions, and to monitor results.
    Agreed - but this could apply to all types of marketing. Most marketing doesn't involve much research, that's because businesses are not required to demonstrate the effectiveness of their marketing to an external funder.
  3. Target audiences are "carefully segmented" to ensure maximum efficiency of the marketing campaign.
    This statement also could apply to normal marketing - as could these reservations... In principle, segmentation is a good idea. In practice, it's usually a waste of time, because it's rare to find segments which can be both defined clearly, and targeted efficiently through the media. Instead of vague "segments", we prefer to think in terms of stakeholder groups and multiple roles, because (a) these groups can be more clearly identified, and (b) roles tend to be more tightly associated with specific media.
    While we're at it, let's question the term "campaign". In a marketing context, it implies an advertising campaign - something that comes and goes quickly. A more appropriate term is intervention- a program designed to improve the existing state of affairs. But even that sounds like a one-off activity, when the truth is that mass behaviour change usually takes years, and multiple interventions. (For example, the slow success of the worldwide anti-smoking campaigns.)
  4. The main element of any influence strategy is to create attractive and motivating exchanges with target audiences.
    This is self-contradictory: how can an "influence strategy" (such as media advertising) create "exchanges with"? Andreasen may have meant "exchanges for" - such as exchanging the pleasure of smoking for a longer life - and making this clear to audiences.
  5. The strategy uses all 4 Ps (product, price, place, promotion) not just advertising.
    The 4 Ps principle is a very limiting concept of marketing. It focuses too much on what the so-called "marketer" is doing, and not enough on the active role of the marketed-to masses. As Audience Dialogue see it, marketing is a game that everybody plays, and the 4 Ps model applies only to sellers, not consumers or others affected. Ebert Gummesson's 30 Rs model (where Rs= relationship types) is a much more comprehensive approach - see a comparison between the 30 Rs and our own 6 Ss.
  6. The competition to the desired behaviour is studied closely.
    Agreed. This seldom happens with commercial marketing, except when a leader in a "me-too" market is trying to increase its share, and becomes very interested in its competitors' activities.

Another point where we differ from Andreasen is his implicit emphasis on individuals. Our experience is that large-scale behaviour change is something that communities do, because peer pressures are much more powerful than advertising.

So much for the normal approach to social marketing. We much prefer the approach of the Communication for Social Change (CFSC) group, from their 1998 conference in Cape Town. This approach is more rooted in social action than is Andreasen's. The CFSC group favours moving away from the standard social marketing approaches in the left column of this table, on to the approaches in the centre column...

Away from... On to... Audience Dialogue's comment on "On to"
1. people as the objects for change people and communities as the agents of their own change We completely agree.
2. designing, testing, and delivering messages supporting dialogue and debate on the key issues of concern Agree strongly.
3. conveying information from technical experts sensitively placing that information in the dialogue and debate The implication is that information from experts shouldn't be questioned. But "information" is not neutral: it's rooted in a context that's usually not stated, and is constructed on a pyramid of assumptions. So let's reword this criterion as: "engaging in a dialogue with relevant experts, to find the best application of their expertise to the local situation".
4. a focus on individual behaviours social norms, policies, culture, and a supportive environment Very important, to look beyond individuals
5. persuading people to do something negotiating the best way forward in a partnership process Yes, but as it's not possible to negotiate with a population of millions, it's vital to ensure that the negotiators are fully representative.
6. technical experts in "outside" agencies dominating and guiding the process the people most affected by the issues of concern playing a central role. Agreed - but the affected people are often hesitant, and need a lot of support to participate.

Despite a few minor reservations, we agree with the above CFSC principles. The focus is more inclusive than social marketing, and thus more effective, but also more likely to get bogged down in local politics. We call our version of CFSC participative marketing - to emphasize that it's a process involving all stakeholders. They decide what changes they want - but as they may be at cross purposes, a method such as the consensus group techniquecan be useful to sort out what they actually agree on.

Social mobilization
This is another approach to social change, in the same general area as social marketing and CFSC. Unlike traditional marketing, its focus is not on the individual, but on how a whole community can change at once. The principle of social mobilization (like Paulo Freire's concept of conscientization) is that the population are made aware of a problem, often through local media. The public will changes, and people become motivated to solve the problem. Social mobilization can be a powerful tool, but also a dangerous one, when a population majority turns against minorities - as in Nazi Germany, or when Milosevic was elected in Serbia in 1992. For more on social mobilization, see the excellent book Social Mobilization and Social Marketing in Developing Communities, by Neill McKee (Southbound Press, Penang, Malaysia, 1993 - out of print, but the last chapter is online).

Difficulties of social marketing

Social marketing is more challenging than ordinary marketing, for all these reasons...

By itself, social marketing doesn't change behaviour. Social change needs more than marketing. Other important factors include the legal, the economic, and the technological. Some writers would add educational factors, but our view is that participative marketing is itself an educational process.

James Grunig has written a lot about what he calls "symmetrical public relations" - an idea closely related to participative marketing. After extensive research with hundreds of organizations, Grunig found that the most effective ones tended to use what he calls "symmetrical" approaches to communication. Put simply: they engage in a dialogue with their publics, rather than taking a spin-doctoring approach.

Participative marketing in practice

In the commercial world, a marketing campaign is usually set up with great urgency. If a new product is launched, the development costs must be recouped quickly, so advertising campaigns come and go in a few weeks.

Participative marketing is very different.The budget is usually a lot lower, and the process is slower, because it's often hard to reach the target audience directly. Also, when people do change their behaviour, it needs to stay changed. Without plenty of reinforcement, many people are likely to regress to their previous behaviour. All this means that, in social marketing, a long-drawn-out campaign is usually more effective than a short, sharp one. Advertising often isn't very effective in social marketing, but if it creates mild social pressures it can work indirectly - though that often takes a long time (years, not months). Thus effective participative marketing programs usually involve a lot of community participation, and a wide range of different initiatives.

The indirect effects of participative marketing make it difficult to evaluate the success of a campaign. For example, imagine a campaign to decrease smoking among teenagers. It might involve 10 different activities, at different geographical levels, and it might run for several years. What if there's no change in the level of teenage smoking after the first year, but within 5 years the percentage of smokers aged 15-19 has fallen from 30% to 25%. How much credit can the participative marketing campaign claim for that? Or might this have happened anyway? (5 years later, it's a different cohort of teenagers.)

A normal Program Logic Model (one way of evaluating such campaigns) has difficulty handling these effects. As part of our work in improving participative marketing, we have been developing a multiple-ladder variation on PLM, that involves a kind of "weaving" back and forth between the goals intended and their side-effects and side-causes, and creating from those a set of counterfactual scenarios. The purpose of the multiple ladders is to more accurately to what extent the intended factors were responsible for an outcome. This extension of PLM is touched on on this page about effectiveness. (Though the topic of that page is website effectiveness, the principles are identical.)

Another aspect of participative marketing is that it involves everybody. So it's not just a matter of "marketing to" the general public, trying to persuade them to change. if a social system isn't working well, it's the whole system that needs changing, not just one part of it. If people are doing something that seems destructive and unsustainable (like smoking a lot), changing the whole system involves changing the entire supply chain, not just the end users. To make extensive changes to a whole system, in a democracy, requires widespread acceptance - though not necessarily active enthusiasm - among all stakeholders involved. This is not just the old-fashioned idea of "marketing" - it goes beyond that, to redesigning a social system.

Further reading

For more background on Audience Dialogue's approach to marketing, see my book Participative Marketing for Local Radio, - particularly chapter 1, which unlike the rest of the book is not specifically about radio.

Communication for Social Change
You can read about the 1998 Cape Town conference in a report by Denise Gray-Felder and James Deane on Communication for Social Change, which has a comprehensive website at Some CFSC reports are on the website of the Rockefeller Foundation - a difficult one to navigate. The easiest way to find these links is to type Deanein the search box on the home page.

Early 2006:two new files on the Communication for Social Change website: Communities Measure Change - a brief introduction to participatory monitoring and evaluation (8 page PDF), and and a more detailed explanation by Will Parks,:Who Measures Change(48 page PDF)

Ottawa Charter
The Ottawa Charterwas a declaration on health promotion from the World Health Organization in 1986. This is broader than it might seem, as the WHO's all-encompassing definition of health is "a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." Despite "promotion" being only one aspect of marketing, the Ottawa Charter is much broader in its scope than promotion in the usual sense. It covers:

Does all that sound really obvious to you? Maybe so, but it's actually quite radical. It would involve major changes in the health systems of many countries. Replace the focus on health with any aspect of social change, and you begin to understand the powerful nature of the Ottawa Charter. This is a much more sophisticated (and probably more effective) approach than almost any commercial marketing.

Symmetrical corporate relationships
A website on Communications in Latin Americahas a concise summary of Grunig's approach.

RE-AIM.orgis a website with a useful framework for evaluating the success of social marketing. RE-AIM stands for

In other words, an intervention is effective when it reaches the right population, is effective, is adopted, is implemented consistently, and is maintained. Again, this is obvious when you think about it - but few interventions succeed on all five points.

Marketing Social Change by Alan R Andreasen (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1995). A clearly written book on the principles of social marketing - subject to the reservations discussed above. Social Marketing in the 21st Centuryby Alan R Andreasen (Sage, California, 2005). Andreasen perhaps realized there were ethical problems with his earlier concept, because this new book distinguishes "downstream" social marketing (at the "problem people" - i.e the province of traditional marketing) from "upstream" (aimed at those in power - the province of PR). However, he's still missing out on the "sidestream" and doesn't seem to realize that most "marketing" is not done by employed marketers. By seeing only the "upstream" and the "downstream", you ignore the systemic aspects.

Social Marketing... by Nedra Kline Weinreich (Sage Publications, Los Angeles, 1996). A useful and practical book on social marketing, though limited in scope, taking the usual one-sided ("be told") view of marketing. Social-Marketing.comis Nedra Kline Weinreich's website, with a wealth of material on social marketing.

Donovan and Henley
Social Marketing: a book by Rob Donovan and Nadine Henley (IP Communications, Melbourne, Australia, 2003): a clearly written and comprehensive background to the subject. Donovan and Henley go well beyond the standard view that "marketing is something that marketers to do consumers". They discuss influencing the environment as well as the individuals. Their solution to the ethical problem of social marketing is to define it as improving the welfare of individuals and society - in terms of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In other words, assuming that there are universal values - as argued quite convincingly by Wendell Bell in his Foundations of Futures Studies.

Conflict resolution is almost a form of participative marketing. Donovan and Henley's use of the UNHDR makes an interesting parallel with Johan Galtung's approach to conflict transformation. If you haven't heard of Galtung, think of him as the "father of peace studies". See his online book Conflict Transformation by Peaceful Means: the Transcend Method(United Nations Disaster Management Training Program, 2000). He too supports universal values.

Social Marketing Institute
The Social Marketing Institute has a useful Links page - though nearly all the links are North American. From that website, you can join the SOC-MKTG email mailing list.

Measuring the impact of communication based initiatives (such as a TV or radio program, or a poster campaign) on attitudinal and behaviour change in a community has never beeen easy.   A recent study titled Assessing Communications for Social Change (AC4SC) sought to address perceived weaknesses of  traditional forms of evaluation that focus inappropriately on individual behaviour change and do not take the wider social context and local communication processes sufficiently into account.