Social marketing is expanding rapidly. According to the National Social Marketing Centre, the term refers to ‘the systematic application of marketing, alongside other concepts and techniques, to achieve specific behavioural goals for a social good'.
It was first developed in the 1970s and used mainly in healthcare education, but now businesses and the Government are looking to engage the public on a much wider range of topics.
Healthy eating, local community involvement, recycling, green behaviour, responsible drinking, financial literacy and fighting the war on terror are just a few examples of where social marketing techniques are being used by communications experts.
Arguably, PR is one of the most powerful weapons in the social marketer's arsenal, but how effective are PROs when running these campaigns?
PRWeek teamed up with Eloqui PR and invited a panel of experts (see panellists, below) to discuss how PR is taking the lead in social marketing.
On the evolution of social marketing...
Chris Genasi Social marketing is growing in the public sector, but also in the private sector - whether it is about healthy eating or stopping smoking - to make companies appear to be doing good and avoid regulatory change.
Ed Lecky-Thompson It has been a stereotype for some time now that the only people in society concerned with social issue are the philanthropic ones. The reality is commercial organisations have, for some time now, taken an interest in social marketing. Almost every social issue has an impact on the buyers and sellers in our society, such as the drain lung cancer and obesity puts on the health service. The commercial sector has realised if it can get advocacy and funding from the public sector, it is just as well placed to use that resource for social good. It can therefore, say, help improve health in society and the health of its staff, thereby improving productivity. I think we have seen a real change in this over the past 24 months.
Dr Aric Sigman A lot of companies realise they can create an ambient, subconscious, emotional feeling about their brand by association with something good.
Oliver Hickson The Government Communications Network's definition of social marketing is ‘a detailed understanding of audiences to develop interventions that can effect positive
changes in behaviour'. This can be done through PR or partnerships. Often it might be advertising driving people to wider campaigns followed up in the press, but these days it is very important campaigns are targeted accurately. If we are running a campaign aimed at black and minority ethnic (BME) audiences, for instance, we will often involve a BME specialist rather than a generic agency. We are actually recruiting a roster of BME agencies right now.
On recent examples of social marketing campaigns that have worked...
CG We did a campaign for the Commission for Racial Equality and the brief was to make people think positively about immigration. We did research and came up with the idea of using the British love of food. We asked celebrity chefs to come up with recipes of traditional English and well-loved foreign food to give people positive associations .
ELT Talk to Frank [the government drugs awareness campaign] felt natural and it had brand credibility. For kids, it didn't feel like it was adults shouting at them, which made them take it a bit more seriously.
Saying that, if it was being done again, a campaign like that would be planned very differently. Driving traffic to the Frank website was a key component, but we know much more about website usage and how to measure it now. The speed things change on the web means there is no way you could spend six months planning a campaign like that now. You need to be able to target your audience quickly and accurately.
OH These are both good recent examples, but if you look at some of the social marketing campaigns over the years, a lot of them took a long time to work. It took about 16 years for drink-driving to become socially unacceptable after a campaign that started in the 1970s and went through to the 1980s.
Look at the perception of smoking now compared with ten years ago. People have accepted having to smoke outside because, even though they still smoke, they know how bad it is for them and they realise that anything that is done to stop passive smoking and
encourage people to give up is a good thing. This was only made possible through a social marketing campaign in which PR played a massive part.
On the toughest social marketing topics...
CG Immigration or war on terror.
OH Race and religion.
ELT Immigration. Social marketing has a powerful role to play in changing attitudes. There are a surprising amount of people who would never commit a
racist act, but are inherently racist. Add to that the positive reinforcement offered by sections of the populist media, and you are looking at a tricky issue.
On why research needs to be handled particularly carefully when dealing with social issues...
AS PROs love to try to quantify human behaviour - identifying a baseline and then showing how their campaign has affected behaviour. The trouble is human beings lie when asked about difficult topics such as race, sex, or social
taboos - not only to psychologists and researchers, but also to themselves.
Phil Downing Ask people whether they recycle and 90 per cent say they do - something that is not backed up by the figures, which suggest only 27 per cent do. However, when you dig a little deeper, you find that although 90 per cent do recycle, some will do it every day and others rarely. We try to get around this by pairing reported with actual behaviour and observing people, but this can be invasive. Often the best way is just to ask very targeted questions and pin people down.
On why social marketing is able to be more powerful than consumer marketing...
ELT I did a straw poll this morning around the office and asked people to pick out memorable campaigns. The ones that stood out were often the
most graphic ones - speeding, drugs, drink-driving and so on. These would never have been produced with such graphic images were they not designed to improve society in some way.
The ones that go for the safer, mainstream creative devices blend in with the other commercial adverts. Social marketing gives you licence to break through and make a real impact.
CG There is another argument that companies that actively engage on social issues become a lightning rod for negative publicity. Look at McDonald's. It has done a great deal on healthy eating issues, but this means it gets more bad publicity than Burger King. Private sector companies I have dealt with often ask what good sticking their heads above the parapet will do them.
On using celebrities in social marketing...
AS Studies show that monkeys recognise ‘monkey celebrities' - they will forgo food to watch a higher-ranking monkey on a screen, but they won't do the same for a monkey of equal rank.
This is why many problems with young people are down to aspirations to be like unsuitable role models.
OH Celebrities can be used in different ways. Take the police recruitment campaign with Lennox Lewis. That took
away the celebrity status, making the message even stronger.
PD David Attenborough always works well in environmental messaging because he has earned his place within the topic he is talking about. Celebrities are useful, but come with caveats. If they do not have credibility, they are not going to change anyone's mind.
director of PR and comms at the COI
Oversees government comms and works closely with the Government News Network (GNN). Also involved in sponsorship, including social marketing and partnership marketing, and is responsible for BMI campaigns within the COI.
Dr Aric Sigman
psychologist and biologist
Not part of the PR industry but often acts as a spokesperson for pieces of research. Worked on a wide variety of campaigns, including government studies on reducing smoking and suicides among young men. Often asked to design a study that will appeal to the press, or analyse the results of one. Will then face the cameras. Looks at whether there are principles that can influence the masses.
head of environmental research team at Ipsos Mori
Works on influencing public behaviour for environmental or social good. Involved in food, recycling and health issues.
chief executive of Eloqui PR
Estimates 50 per cent of his agency's work is social marketing, mainly in the public sector. This includes work for the then Commission for Racial Equality to change attitudes towards immigration, and projects trying to change attitudes towards disability
for the Disability Rights Commission. Has also handled projects for the private sector, including promotion of financial literacy for Visa.
head of digital at relationship marketing agency Hicklin Slade
Lecky-Thompson's role is to introduce a digital vein across
the whole agency. He spent two years as head of new media at First Leisure, where he was responsible for the firm's online portal pitched at 18- to 24-year-olds, and focused on reaching this audience through social marketing messages.