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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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“Why can't you sell brotherhood like soap?” (Wiebe Winter, 1951-52, p.679-691) is the notorious question at the base of all social marketing techniques. It introduces marketers to the ideas of using marketing methods and techniques to bring about positive social change. There is great debate over an official definition of social marketing as it is still a relatively new concept and is practiced by different practitioners holding dissimilar beliefs. In “Social Marketing: Its definition and domain” Andreasen analyses the different definitions of social marketing and concludes with the following being the most accurate:

“Social marketing is the adaptation of commercial marketing technologies to programs designed to influence the voluntary behaviour of target audiences to improve their personal welfare and that of the society for which they are a part.” (Spring 1994 p.110)

To assess the contribution of social marketing to contemporary marketing thinking it is important to evaluate social marketing. Social marketing as a concept has evolved rapidly with the increase in the use of technology working as an accelerator to make it what it is today. Originally all forms of social marketing had to involve a tangible good, which are now used to aid the cause but not as a necessary marketing technique. This brings the focus back to creating positive social change. Sally Dibb discusses the different streams of Social marketing demonstrating the growth of marketing in “the Journal of Marketing Management”. She discusses how upstream, midstream and downstream marketing methods need to be combined in order to create a successful marketing campaign, with the different streams representing different societal groups. This is crucial as a social marketing campaign can only be successful if the right group is targeted using appropriate methods for that group. When it first began social marketing used only downstream methods focusing on small communities now legislation and lobbying are used as upstream methods to enhance the effects of downstream practices. This is an example of how social marketing has been influenced by contemporary marketing.

In “Social Marketing: An approach to planned social change” Kotler and Zaltman explain the strategy used by most social marketers. It begins with the marketer deciding what environment the campaign targets before conducting a large amount of research into the project. Researchers collect information regarding the competitive, cultural, economic, technological ad political aspects of the project. Then like most contemporary marketers the social marketers focus on the four P's of marketing. With the product in most cases being a tangible good that can help bring about social change, the promotion being the methods used to increase the awareness about the issue and how to resolve it. Place being the type of channel, what locations and groups of people to target it at and price being how much it would cost and the opportunity costs. This is followed by a focus as to which streams to incorporate and what groups of people with in those streams. Marketers then do further research into the markets they are targeting before putting it into practice.

There are many limitations to social marketing. Firstly, like with any sort of marketing there is always the risk that the campaign will be unsuccessful and therefore not achieve a change in social behaviour while wasting time and money. It is harder for a social marketing campaign to be successful as they need to change behaviour and not just increase interest in a good or service. Cost is also a big element in the limitations of social marketing as it costs a lot of money to conduct the amount of research required as well as to implement a marketing strategy. This is more of an issue with social marketing than standard marketing as the people conducting it are normally charities, therefore it has to be funded and it is not about making profit. There is also a large amount of opportunity cost as money invested in one social marketing campaign could be invested in other ways in order to try and bring about social change. Furthermore different marketers have different perceptions of people's needs and these views might not accurately represent the society's wants and needs. For example the Ku Klux clan could use social marketing to bring about what they believe is a positive social change, but this would not represent the views of society. Some people disagree with the ideas of social marketing as they believe it is manipulative and can lead to marketers trying to control the general public. This can also be said for contemporary marketing and so marketers have to ensure viewers that they are not trying to control their views.

There are also many benefits to social marketing with the main one being, when successful it can bring about positive social change therefore decreasing the amount of negative externalities in a community and helping to combat a societal problem. Social marketing can build communication between the different implementers of marketing and the public. This has positively impacted contemporary marketing thinking as it increases social welfare as people feel closer to the council and government etc. Social marketing can therefore increase the trust of the public in marketing campaigns reducing the chance of consumers feeling manipulated. In the long run social marketing can save money for example a social marketing campaign to decrease the amount of smokers saves the individuals money on cigarettes, the government money on health care to aid smoking related illnesses and increasing productivity in the work force as people don't take as many smoking breaks.

In order to assess the contribution of social marketing to contemporary marketing thinking we need to compare the similarities and the differences between social and contemporary marketing. The main difference between social and contemporary marketing is the aim. Social marketers aim is to bring about positive social change, whereas most contemporary marketers aims are to increase profit or sales. Commercial marketers aim to find the audience that would want a good where as social marketers aim to change the beliefs of consumers to want the good.  There is also the difference in type of good. Contemporary marketers always focus campaigns on tangible products whereas social marketers do not require a good or service to be the focus of their campaign. Moreover contemporary marketers would market any good that would bring them profit not just a good that benefits society. Another difference is that contemporary marketing is usually more short term than long term. Social marketers want the effect of their marketing techniques to remain long term whereas with contemporary marketing the effects are more short term. For example the public health campaign to stop swine flu in 2009 was aimed to stop people from spreading germs after the swine flu epidemic as well as during.

There are also many similarities between contemporary marketing thinking and social marketing. Both types of marketing practice similar techniques such as using the marketing mix and a customer orientation is crucial for both in order to be successful. Furthermore research is necessary in both contemporary and social marketing so as to target the right audience and to adopt the correct methods. Social marketing has helped to teach contemporary marketing that better targeting comes from better research and delivers better sales. Sometimes there is a cross over between social and contemporary marketing. For example if a contemporary marketing firm wants to appear more ethical to investors they could adopt some social marketing techniques and cases in order to enhance their image.

Consumers are becoming more and more socially conscious and therefore products need to offer benefits to the environment and society. This means it is becoming increasingly necessary for commercial marketers to use aspects of social marketing. Social marketing is contributing progressively more to contemporary marketing thinking as the two concepts are becoming more intertwined. The most successful campaigns are when social marketing techniques are used to change people's beliefs regarding a product and contemporary marketing techniques are used to market a tangible good to accompany this campaign. One must also remember that some markets are more suited to social marketing practices than others for example fitness products. Social marketing has made a large contribution to contemporary marketing thinking and will continue to do so by changing the way marketers target their audience.

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