What is Social Marketing?

I once conducted focus groups for a project in Kiama.  Photo stimulus were shown of local beach scenes to elicit local ownership and buy in for the social marketing campaign.  It was fascinating to listen to the discussion about the identification of ‘Gerringong’ v ‘Bombo’ sand.  The colour and texture of the sand on these coastal beaches was obvious to them and intrinsic to how they identified as part of their community.  Each beach community had a different story, ‘local rules’, ‘too many tourists’, ‘good surfing’, the spot for ‘teenage hang-outs’.  My point is that even to engage with a small, geographically defined community such as Kiama, there are sub-groups affected and motivated in different ways depending on the issue under discussion.

There are many frameworks that offer an approach to bringing about social health change at an individual and population level.  Social marketing is one of them and defined as;

“The application of commercial marketing techniques to the analysis, planning, execution, and evaluation of programs designed to influence the voluntary behaviour of target audiences in order to improve their personal welfare and that of their society” (Andreasen, 1995).

Social marketing is NOT social advertising, social media or just about communications. It IS about creating and sustaining behaviour change.  The focus is on voluntary behaviour change achieved by applying commercial marketing concepts and techniques.

Community-based social marketing emphasises direct contact among community members and the removal of structural barriers, as these approaches are most likely to bring about behaviour change.  Community-based social marketing is pragmatic. It involves four steps:

  1. identifying the barriers to a behaviour;
  2. developing and piloting a program to overcome these barriers;
  3. implementing the program across a community and;
  4. evaluating the effectiveness of the program.

Social marketing is a powerful tool to engage people, organisations and coalitions in broad social change efforts.  Its consumer orientation marries beautifully with the concepts of civic engagement and public participation and will fail without it.

Eight domains of an age friendly city diagram

Age Friendly Illawarra is well positioned to tackle the fundamentally complex ‘glocal’ issues in working towards age friendly cities, but we must acknowledge that the solution is equally as complex.  The multitude of constructs behind each of the eight WHO ‘pillars’ are in and of themselves, complicated, and so the strength of our partnerships will be an integral mechanism for creating and sustaining ongoing opportunities for structural and environmental change.


– Kelly Andrews, General Manager, Healthy Cities Illawarra