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Social marketing
Social marketing

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2.2 So how can social marketing be defined?

The definition offered by Kotler, Roberto and Lee (2002, p. 5) is a useful one:

The use of marketing principles and techniques to influence a target audience to voluntarily accept, reject, modify or abandon a behaviour for the benefit of individuals, groups or society as a whole.

Social marketing relies on voluntary compliance rather than legal, economic or coercive forms of influence.

Kotler et al. (2002) argue that social marketing is often used to influence an audience to change their behaviour for the sake of one or more of the following:

  • improving health – health issues

  • preventing injuries – safety issues

  • protecting the environment – environmental issues

  • contributing to the community – community-building issues.

Lazer and Kelley (1973, p. ix) define social marketing as follows:

Social marketing is concerned with the application of marketing knowledge, concepts and techniques to enhance social as well as economic ends. It is also concerned with analysis of the social consequences of marketing policies, decisions and activities.

This definition adds a further dimension to the scope of social marketing. Sometimes described as ‘critical marketing’, this involves an assessment of (usually) commercial marketing's impact on society. This course will, however, concentrate on the first element of the definition, i.e. the use of marketing to achieve social goals.

Activity 1

Think for a moment about examples of social marketing with which you are familiar.


One of the most obvious examples in the UK is that of the anti-smoking campaigns. Here it is important to note Kotler and Zaltman's (1971) point that social advertising and social marketing are not the same thing. From the public's perception this is often the ‘face’ of social marketing, but for the marketer many other issues must be taken into account, as discussed later in the course. Other examples relate to the many global initiatives to reduce energy consumption/carbon emissions; encourage recycling; reduce binge drinking and childhood obesity; encourage positive health behaviours; and many more.