2.4 Reasons against social marketing
Arguments against the use of social marketing can be based on the following:
Cost – Social marketing programmes can cost considerable amounts of money. Criticisms of these expenditures are heightened as they are often financed by public money in times of resource constraints and therefore have a high opportunity cost. A related issue is that of the problems involved in assessing the success of these programmes. The long term nature of behavioural change and the difficulties in establishing cause–effect relationships add to the fuel for the critics.
Misconceptions and negative attitudes about marketing – As most introductory marketing text books relate, marketing is often equated with selling and persuading people to buy things that they do not really want. Interestingly, when people are asked if they have been persuaded they usually say no. Today's adoption of marketing principles and techniques (for example, market segmentation, market research, branding) by the banking sector is now evident. It was not too long ago, however, that bank managers were describing such activity as ‘nauseating’, ‘odious and irrelevant’ and ‘an over-rated pastime’ (Turnbull and Wootten, 1980, p. 482). Many professional services such as accountants and solicitors still equate marketing with advertising (Barr and McNeilly, 2003). Public sector organisations, such as hospital trusts, have also been slow to adopt (Meidan et al., 2000). Lack of awareness of the potential of marketing, misunderstanding and the observation of some of the more doubtful practices of the commercial sector are some of the reasons behind this. As previously mentioned, the criticism of commercial marketing is an element of social marketing, and this is highlighted in the Lazer and Kelley definition (see Section 2.2). A final reason for resistance to marketing may be due to the nature of the language. Strategic marketing, for example, adopts the terminology of Sun Zu's ‘The Art of War’ (Krause, 1995). Phrases such as ‘flanking defence’, ‘encirclement’ and ‘full frontal attack’ are probably not particularly attractive to the World Wildlife Fund or Oxfam.
Parameters of marketing activity – A final point emerges from marketing authors themselves. In response to Kotler and Levy's article ‘Broadening the Concept of Marketing’, Luck (1969) argued that the wider application of marketing away from the commercial sector dilutes the content and nature of marketing as a discipline. There are few proponents of this view, however, and the last four decades have seen many applications including, of course, the application of social marketing.