A Whistle Stop Tour of Social Marketing

By Faith Thompson

June 13, 2018

June 13, 2018 – At KYNE we use social marketing principles in our quest to improve health. Our team applies these social marketing principles into our work and strategies on a daily basis. To enhance my knowledge on communications for social change, I attended the Social Marketing Conference: Co-Creating Change in Galway to see how academics, public health colleagues and industry come together under the umbrella of social marketing to encourage movements towards collective social good. This article will act as a whistle stop tour or social marketing 101 for anyone who doesn’t know their social marketing from their social media.

In short, social marketing is a multidisciplinary approach that marries together economics, marketing, sociology and psychology in a consolidated effort to find ways of bettering society. As the first of the four speakers (warmly referred to as the Social Marketing G4), Professor Walter Wymer put it, social marketers are focused on beneficial social outcomes. We need to not worry about tactics, but the strategic outcomes.” Outcomes such as fewer people smoking, more people getting vaccinated, fewer people urinating in public or more people being aware of the food waste they produce and then making a change.

My top three social marketing take-a-ways from the meeting are:

1)     “We can’t treat individual actions in isolation, it’s always interacting with the social environment” – Prof. Walter Wymer

A resonate, but also contested theme within the talks over the two days, focused on the role of the individual and how we, as social marketers, place the individual as an actor in the movement towards social change. We, as individuals, are all consistently and unwillingly impacted by our environment. For example, if I want to eat healthier but routinely walk into shops with confectionery plastering the walls, and do not have any healthy options in canteen at work, I will find it hard to change my behaviour for the better. Social marketers therefore must develop a better set-up for the individual to exist in, perhaps implementing a campaign for vending machines with fruit or a reward card for healthy eating venues.

2)     “We can’t just tell people, and they won’t just do it!” – Prof. Sharyn Rundle

People know what is good for them. You know, I know, we all know we should eat well, recycle, not smoke or litter. However, being told repeatedly to do something does not make any of us want to do it – this has been shown in numerous research papers. Social marketing is therefore more than just awareness campaigns followed up with sanctions. It combines behaviour change campaigns with respect for individual autonomy judgment. Give people the option to choose or make the positive option, the more fun option and they are more likely to take it. This is called value propositioning. The desired behavior needs to be as fun, easy or actionable as the undesirable behavior. Research seems to show that fun results in change.

3)     “We have a right, not just to a better world, but being part of the journey towards a better world.” – Prof. Gerard Hastings

Co-creation, as the tagline of the conference suggests, is a fundamental principle in social marketing: the bringing together of people to develop the blue print for a brighter future. To go back to my first take-a-way, alone we cannot build the momentum or provide the resources to instigate change than can benefit us all. As put by Professor Gerard Hastings, “the idea of co-creation, that we can work together for better, makes us human.” In not so short, social marketing is an innovative discipline that extracts the strengths of different academic disciples and applies them within a real-world setting, with the ultimate aim of a better world for everyone.

I enjoyed immersing myself in the world of academics and full-time social marketers. I look forward to attending the conference again next year, but I look forward more so to applying what I learned to my daily work at KYNE.