Marketing Social

Why is it convenient to develop a new more specific terminology for social marketing?

©2009 Daniel Mendive, Mar del Plata Argentina.  All rights reserved


Each society must resolve different kinds of social problems, choosing between various alternatives in order to achieve positive results towards the end of eradicating such problems as drug dependence, alcoholism and AIDS, to cite just a few examples.

The desire to resolve these problems translates into the development of social campaigns that have as their goal transforming the people’s attitudes and behavior.

According to Kotler and Roberto [1], we find campaigns for social change in ancient Greece and Rome, which had as their end the emancipation of slaves. In England, during the Industrial Revolution, there were campaigns to abolish the incarceration of debtors, to give voter’s rights to women and to eliminate child labor.

Currently, campaigns for social change are working towards:

a) Health Reforms (for example, with respect to smoking, nutrition and drug abuse).

b) Environmental Conservation (for example, cleaner air and water, the preservation of parks, national forests and wildlife refuges).

c) Educational Reforms (such as, adult illiteracy, better public schools, improving student performance, giving teacher incentives).

d) Economic Reforms (for example, revitalizing older, industrial cities, fostering worker skills through training and attracting foreign investment).

According to the explanations of Kotler and Roberto, a campaign for social change “is an organized effort conducted by a group (agent of change) that attempts to convince and another group (the addressees) to accept, modify or abandon fixed ideas, attitudes, practices and behaviors.

In many cases, the agent of change, is essentially looking to change the conduct of the addressees. This change of behavior comes about as a result of a series of intermediary steps, such as changes in the available information, knowledge and attitudes of a given population.

There are campaigns that benefit from a broad consensus within a population, for example: encouraging the development of a sense of community, avoiding forest fires and rehabilitating drug addicts. There are also campaigns that have less public support and those that are finally rejected.

Kotler and Roberto teach us that the elements of a campaign for social change are:

1) CAUSE: a social objective considered by agents for change to offer a solution to a societal problem.

2) AGENT FOR CHANGE: an individual or organization having the intention to generate social change via a campaign for social change.

3) ADDRESEES: individuals, groups or entire populations who are the recipients of the calls for change.

4) CHANNELS: communication and distribution channels by which information is exchanged and transmitted between agents for change and addressees.

5) STRATEGY FOR CHANGE: the adopted direction and program by the agent for change in order to bring about a change in the attitudes and behaviors of the addressees.

The agents for change lay out different methods and tactics for influencing the addressees, including lobbying, planning petitions, publicity and the recompense for the desired change of behavior. All of the tactics respond to a strategy seeking change.

The above-mentioned authors emphasize five principal strategies for change:

I) Technological

II) Economic

III) Political / Legal

IV) Educational

V) Social Marketing

Just as Kotler and Roberto have, we will use as an example a campaign against smoking to see the differences between these different strategies:

I) Technological Strategy: In the case of an anti-smoking campaign there could be three kinds of technological solutions:

1) Technology for the modification of the product: Modifying certain characteristics of cigarettes could diminish the harmful effects of smoking. For example: modifying the genetic structure of tobacco in order to reduce the level of carcinogens, using filters to reduce the transmission of tar and other particles or developing a strong industry of “smokeless” or “tabaccoless” cigarettes.

2) Technology for product substitution: Research of smoking habits could suggest as a response product substitutions like “anxiety pills” for when one is seized by craving to smoke.

3) Technology for product innovation: Inveterate smokers may have a need for a product like “a pill in the course of the morning” that would reduce or eliminate the risks of smoking.

II) Economic Strategies: These strategies attempt to identify the cost of the undesirable behavior and to reward the desirable behavior. For example: establishing an additional health tax that is substantial for each package of cigarettes. The funds could be subsequently allocated for the treatment of victims

suffering from tobacco related illnesses. For the reward, the following examples might be possible: employers could encourage employees not to smoke by giving bonuses to those who stop smoking or subsidizing employee participation in clinical programs for stopping smoking. Another kind of economic strategy could be: eliminating subsidies for tobacco cultivation and giving tobacco farmers

subsidies for substituting other crops for their tobacco crops. Cigarette manufacturers could be compelled to pay a fixed percentage of the advertising expenditures for research of tobacco-related illnesses as a way of reducing the social costs cigarette consumption.

III) Political/Legal Strategies: Political/legal interventions can take the form of restricting production, sale and/or consumption of cigarettes, which could translate to regulations limiting smoking in public places. There could also be regulations restricting the availability, form, sites of consumption and promotional channels of cigarettes.

IV) Educational

V) Social Marketing: The first definition of social marketing was the one presented by Kotler and Zaltman (1971). They defined social marketing as: “the design, implementation, and control of programs calculated to influence the acceptability of social ideas and involving considerations of product planning, pricing, communications and marketing research.”


As of 1971 when Kotler[i] and Zaltman[ii] presented the concept of social marketing, different authors have been making contributions to give social marketing an adequate  theoretic support.

In 1995 Alan Andreasen presents a more specific definition: “the application of commercial marketing technologies to the analysis, planning, execution, and evaluation of programs designed to influence the voluntary behavior of target audiences in order to improve their personal welfare and that of their society.”

This definition adds elements that indicate that the target audience should voluntarily change the behavior not just that the behavior is voluntary.

The Mexican author Pérez Romero[iii] successfully affirms that the academic interest concerning social marketing has had an exponential growth in the last three decades.

In 1981 Seymour Fine looked at social marketing as marketing of ideas to solve consumer problems in a way analogous to marketing products to meet consumer needs and desires.

Kotler and Roberto in “Social Marketing: Strategies for Changing Public” they laid out social marketing as a social change management technology to increase the acceptability of a idea or practice among a group, or groups of target adopters.

In 1995, Alan Andreasen in Marketing Social Change, approached social marketing as the application of commercial marketing technologies to influence the voluntary behavior of target audiences and employed the transtheoretical model of behavior change (Prochaske, Di Clemente & Norcross, 1992) as an organizing framework  for achieving such change.


Despite the numerous and successful applications of social marketing in different parts of the world, this discipline is questioned in some countries because it is considered that it can commercialize the social cause where it is applied. This happens specially in Spain and Latin America countries.

According to the Spanish author Moliner Tena[iv], social marketing as technique is neutral. It may be good or bad depending on who applies it; social marketing is neutral but people applying it are not.

Moliner Tena also refers to the existing prejudice the Spanish sanitary community feels against the word marketing.

Sanitarians depend on public administrations, they believe that marketing is not necessary because sanitation is free and there is too much demand.

Moliner Tena also states that this negative attitude relates to the identification of marketing with advertising. But he points out that a great part of marketing functions or activities are being carried out in sanitary organizations, although they are called in a different way and are placed in different structures. For example, necessities are analyzed, public relation activities are performed, informative and preventive campaigns are developed or assistance centres nets are designed. Something similar happens in Argentina.

That is why, Moliner Tena indicates that it is necessary to take into account the individual values system as it can be an important break to stop actions destined to change ideas and attitudes. It is difficult to implement a change if the new proposed attitude is incongruous with the values system of the individual’s values.

That is why in many countries it is difficult to accept social marketing as discipline, especially in Latin countries both from America or Europe, as there are many people who only consider marketing related to the commercial field of application, so they do not accept talking about marketing when work concerns social matters.

I deem it necessary, for the good development of this discipline, to find a consensus regarding terminology at international level, irrespective of the culture of the country as it happens with disciplines such as economy, psychology, sociology, medicine, etc. Terminology should not be the patrimony of just one culture.

The wrong sense of the expression: Social Marketing

I think the expression social marketing is not univocal, since it has not the same meaning for all the authors, what is generating some confusion.

For example, the phenomenon of social nets is making some authors talk about social marketing in a totally different way from the one that has been used since 1971. When they talk about social marketing, they refer to marketing campaigns that are being performed through a social net like Facebook, they do not refer precisely to the promotion of a social behavior change.

Besides, we have corporate social marketing, that is to say social marketing actions developed by corporations that can promote a socially beneficial behavior, such as the one developed by the automotive enterprise Peugeot in Argentina during summer 2008, fostering responsible driving. But what a corporate ultimately expects is to strengthen its image in front of the society and the one of its brands that, as everybody knows, are a very important assets of corporations.

These samples show that the expression social marketing is becoming a wrong expression.

So continuous and permanent actions destined to foster socially beneficial behaviors are carried out by state organisms and nonprofit organizations devoted to work for the social welfare from an altruist and solidary attitude.

Besides if we consider the most important differences that exist between commercial and social marketing described by Professor Alan Andreasen[v] and Minette E. Drumwright[vi] in his book Ethics in Social Marketing, I think it is proper to give social marketing a more specific terminology trying not to altering but rather afirming its nature.

This is the comparative table created by Alan Andreasen and Minette E. Drumwright:

Differences Between Social and Commercial Marketers

Social Marketers Commercial Marketers
Want to do good Want to make money
Funded by taxes, donations Funded by investments
Publicly accountable Privately accountable
Performance hard to measure Performance measured in profits, market share
Behavioral goals long term Behavioral goals short term
Often target controversial behaviors Typically provide noncontroversial products/services
Often choose high risk targets Choose accessible targets
Risk averse managers Risk taking managers
Participative decision making Hierarchical decision-making
Relationships based on trust Relationships often competitive

Among the differences between social and commercial marketing described by Andreasen, I want to point out that in social marketing long term and sustainable behavior changes are looked for while in commercial marketing short term results are expected. Besides, sometimes it is difficult to reach the recipient of the programme, while in commercial marketing the public objective is accesible.

Differences between both kinds of marketing are evident and the appearance of wrong interpretations make me look for a more specific terminology for social marketing.

In the last “World Social Marketing Conference”[vii] it was observed all along the different expositions, the existence of consensus concerning what is understood as social marketing.

As it is pointed out in the third edition of the social marketing book by Kotler and Lee it seems to be clear that social marketing influences in the behavior and uses to that end a systematic planning process, and applies the traditional marketing, its principles and techniques and tries to offer the society a positive benefit.

A more specific terminology is needed

A short time ago we have attended an interesting debate in the community of “social marketers”[viii] on the search of alternatives to the word client concerning social marketing.

But I humbly think that taking into account what has been explained up to now, I consider we should study the possibility of developing an specific terminology for social marketing starting by calling it in a different way.

This new denomination has to be simple and directly related to the subject involved.

When we talk about marketing, we quickly associate it to market and commercialization, and when we refer to the promotion of socially favorable behaviors we add the word “social” and we talk about “social marketing”.

In the first page of the web site “Social Marketing Service[ix]” whose president is Nancy Lee[x], it says that social marketing is a discipline different from marketing. If it is a different discipline I consider it necessary to use a more specific name.

But if we use the word marketing when we refer to the activity in the market, why don’t we speak of “Societing” when our purpose is to influence in the society?

Societing is a simple term that leads us to immediately relate it to work to influence in the society. Societing is not something new, is applied marketing, but specifically oriented to the promotion of social behavior change, using the well-known and successful marketing techniques.

So if we accept this new denomination we will be clearly delimiting the fields of action concerning marketing and societing and every time we talk about marketing, the first association will be towards the commercial aspect as it has always been. If we refer to societing, we will talk about the promotion of a favorable social change through the promotion of beneficial behaviors for individuals and societies involved, that is to say, we will give a new and more specific name to this concept that we are calling social marketing.

I am aware that the new term may denaturalize the specialty when separating it from word marketing. It could be related to disciplines like sociology.

I do not think it is going to be possible due to the strong differences in the subject matter, in the methodology and above all, in the different objectives each one has. Sociology  teaches us how human society is structured and how it works; societing teaches us what to do to promote a favorable change in the society.

The word societing appears because marketing has broadened its field of action in such a way that it is impossible that only word may contain all the possibilities of application it has, what makes it necessary that certain applications have an specific denomination.

Concerning the word societing, it is possible to clearly and precisely delimit the commercial from the non commercial marketing applications. Societing presents here as a non commercial application of marketing, being the expression marketing reserved to every use related to commercial fields and the actions of corporations.

So when the commercial field is not the objective, but the activities carried out by nonprofit organizations and public agencies, I would rather talk of societing instead of  social marketing.

This does not mean that the expression social marketing should dissappear, I think it should be reserved to define every action related to corporate social marketing. While the social marketing will be part of the world of corporations, the societing will be part of the world of non-profit organizations and public agencies.

The word societing was born with a wider vision than the word marketing as its object action is not marketing but society with all it implies due to its complexity for analysis.

If the word societing were accepted, the way to discover new knowledges and ways of application could be found optimizing actions to promote favorable social change.

Alan Andreasen in “Social Marketing in the 21st century” refers to the fact of repositioning social marketing as an approximation to social change covering “upstream” and “dowstream” aspects and opening in that way a door to a wide range of applications.

A good start point for that repositioning consists of giving social marketing a more specific name that adapts properly to what social marketing implies.

If, as Andreasen says, social marketing plays a clear role in influencing individual behaviors, it would be great it plays it from a new concept based on a new denomination: Societing.


The word societing would drop off marketing from the terminological point of view to initiate the development of a more specific terminology and to make a better adaptation of marketing techniques, to be used in programmes to influence in the behavior of persons so as to improve individual life and the one of whole groups.

The use of the word societing and its subsequent theoretic development could be useful so that sectors related to the public sector and non-profit entities could have a better predisposition to expressly and without any kind of apprehension incorporate the word societing to its structures.

I consider the word societing may help social marketing to evolve to its highest level and shall facilitate the adaptation of its methods and denominations.

If we accept the word societing, I consider we will be initiating a new stage in the evolution of social marketing, now under a new name. Perhaps there will appear more and more answers to Wiebe[xi]’s concern: social campaigns should be every time more effici

[i] Philip Kotler Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, author with Zaltman of social marketing concept (1971).

[ii] Gerald Zaltman is the Joseph C. Wilson Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School, author with Kotler of social marketing concept (1971).

[iii] Luis Alfonso Perez Romero Professor of social marketing at Monterrey University, Mexico.

[iv] Miguel Angel Moliner Tena, professor of Jaume I University, Valencia, Spain

[v] Alan Andreasen, Professor of Marketing at the McDonough School of Business of Georgetown University and Executive Director of the Social Marketing Institute.

[vi] Minette E. Drumwright, Associate Professor of Advertising at College of Communication of University of  Texas at Austin

[vii] World Social Marketing Conference, 29-30 September 2008 in Brighton, England.

[viii] Georgetown Social Marketing Listserv

[ix] Social Marketing Service, is a social marketing consulting whose president is Nancy Lee.

[x] Nancy Lee, Founder and President of Social Marketing Services, She is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Washington, Seattle University, and the University of South Florida.

[xi][xi] G.D. Wiebe, In 1052 in “Merchandising Commodities and Citizenship on Television”, posed the question, Why can’t brotherhood be sold like soap?


Perez Romero, Luis Alfonso “Marketing Social. Teoría y Práctica”. First Edition 2004, Pearson México. Mexico.

Moliner Tena, Miguel Angel “Marketing Social. La gestión de las causas sociales”. ESIC Publisher 1998, Spain.

Kotler, Philip and Lee, Nancy R. “ Social Marketing. Influencing Behaviors for good”. Third Edition. Sage Publications 2008, U. S. A.

Andreasen, Alan and Drumwright, Minette E.  “Ethics in Social Marketing”. Georgetown University Press 2001, U.S.A.

Andreasen, Alan “ Social Marketing in the 21st Centuty”. Sage Publications 2005, U. S. A.

Kotler, Philip and Roberto, Eduardo “Mercadotecnia Social” Diana Publisher 1992, México.






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