What Is Social Marketing?

What Is Social Marketing?
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Ever since the term was coined by Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman in 1971, there has been a steep rise in social marketing campaigns. Yes, the internet didn’t actually exist at that time, and no, social marketing is not even slightly related to the term social media marketing.

What Is Social Marketing?

Social marketing is a distinct marketing discipline which uses commercial marketing principles and techniques to advance a social cause and influence the target audience behaviors to improve their lives or the society in which they live.
The characteristics which distinguish social marketing efforts from other marketing efforts are:

Focusing On Benefitting Society

Unlike other marketing efforts where the ultimate gainer is the marketer, social marketing efforts aim at benefitting the society at large. This is the most important characteristic of social marketing.

Objective Is To Influence behaviors

Social marketing is all about influencing behaviors of the target audience. The marketing efforts may be used to:

  • Give up an addictive behavior (e.g., stop smoking)
  • Avoid or reject a potentially undesirable behavior (e.g. don’t try drugs)
  • Prevent long-term consequences (e.g. wear sunscreen to prevent skin cancer)
  • Prevent the environment (e.g. recycle)
  • Learn a new skill (e.g. learn for free and get a job)
  • Risk retaliation (e.g., adhere to the speed limit)

Use Of Commercial Marketing Techniques

Social marketing uses all the commercial marketing techniques. The only difference is that the ultimate beneficiary is the target audience.


Who does Social Marketing?

we can do it social marketing

In most cases, social marketing techniques are used by the national and international public welfare organizations and offices responsible for public welfare like WHO, centers for disease control and prevention, department of health, environmental protection departments, national highway departments etc.

Not-for-profit organizations also involve themselves in social marketing activities of those causes which align with their organization’s missions. For example, Kaiser Family Foundation promotes getting tested for HIV disease by promoting their Know HIV/AIDS campaign.

For-profit organizations sometimes indulge in social marketing activities rather than cause marketing activities to fulfill their corporate social responsibility and build their brand image through better community relations strategies.

Social Marketing vs. Cause Related Marketing

Cause related marketing is a form of marketing where a for-profit organization teams up with a not-for-profit or a charitable organization to raise awareness and/or tackle a social or environmental problem and create business value for the organization at the same time.

Usually, a brand markets its product in affiliation with one of the societal causes and pledges to donate a portion of the proceeds from the sales to the cause. Other cause marketing strategies include:



  • Donation boxes at the point of sales.
  • Making employees volunteer for social good
  • Paying to use a nonprofit’s brand on company’s product, etc.

However, social marketing doesn’t benefit the organization in monetary terms. In fact, it involves spending money for the betterment of the society and not the organization.

Social MarketingCause Marketing
The main objective is to benefit the target audience and the society. The objective is to tackle a social cause and create business value at the same time.
Example: WWF's Endangered Species Conservation Campaign where the fund is raised from others just for the sake of endangered species conservation. Example: American Express's restoration of Statue of Liberty campaign where the company donated a portion of each use of an American Express card for the restoration

Social Marketing Examples

Water – Use It Wisely

Water – Use It Wisely was a water conservation campaign started in 1999 to promote water conservation ethics in Arizona. Today, the campaign is active in nearly 400 towns, cities, states, utilities, and public and private organization and is one of the largest conservation educational outreach programs in the world.

Piano Stairs, Odenplan subway station, Stockholm

The piano staircase was an initiative by Volkswagen which tried to change people’s behavior by transforming the staircase of the subway station into a piano keyboard. The initiative resulted in motivating 66% more people to use the stairs instead of the escalators.


Border Roads Organisation, India

The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) develops and maintains road networks in India’s border areas and friendly neighboring countries. The organization uses social marketing techniques to promote safe driving on the mountain roads.

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Written by

A marketer, a dreamer, a traveler and a philomath. I prefer stargazing to spending nights in clubs.

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