These days the term Social Marketing is often used to describe marketing through the use of social media. But this usage is incorrect, as Social Marketing has been around much longer than social media and refers to the practice of promoting social change for the benefit of the individual, such as a stop smoking programme, or for the benefit of society, for example a campaign to save energy or protect wildlife. In fact, the foremost guru of Social Marketing, Prof. Alan Andreasen, argues that this is the highest form of Marketing, as it targets a change in voluntary behaviour, rather than just purchasing a product or service, which can also be regarded as behaviour, but of a much simpler type.
Sadly, the assumed guardians of the social good in society, namely the government and charities, do not apply enough good practice of Social Marketing. In fact, charities have been getting a bad press recently, because of their excessive use of hard-sell techniques, usually more common in commercial marketing. An article by Julian Baggini in the Guardian headlined “ charities risk losing our goodwill with aggressive fundraising tactics”. It calls for a different approach, which I have also been advocating. Charities, just like companies, need to stop taking the short-term ‘quick buck’ view, and focus on addressing deeper cultural issues. Donors and supporters of charitable causes are no different from regular consumers. They want to know whether what they are paying for is actually good value. They want more information and transparency. They want solutions, rather than just a sticking plaster. These are the archetypal ‘wants and needs’ in marketing terms, which are especially prominent in Millennials, the next generation born since the 1980’s
Celebrities and even royalty have been playing an increasingly important role in Social Marketing campaigns
Social marketers and non-profit organisations all over the world should recognize this trend and adapt their marketing communications to suit this future generation of donors. An excellent example has been the global campaign to save animals from extinction by aiming to reduce the demand for illegal wildlife products. With the slogan “ When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too”, advocated by Wildaid and more recently United4Wildlife, this communication strategy combines traditional tools, like mass advertising and celebrity endorsement, with the clever use of social media to persuade consumers and strengthen enforcement. The impact on the awareness and behaviour of both consumers and governments has been impressive. China, for instance, has just made a high-level commitment to end its current legal ivory trade.
This type of social change strategy can only be implemented for the long-term, but it offers very promising opportunity to tackle over-consumption, now rampant in many parts of the world. Hopefully, the skill set of future marketers will include what is termed ‘de-marketing’ by Philip Kotler, who is one of the founding fathers of the marketing profession (from his seminal 2011 paper titled ‘re-inventing marketing to manage the environmental imperative’ ).