Social Marketing and Social Work

One of my favorite courses in undergrad was a psychology course I took on marketing and advertisement. I already had an understanding of the “manipulation” going on in ads through personal experience. How many toy commercials had I seen as a kid that convinced me life would be that much better if I had a remote controlled car or a Star Wars action figure? Or as a young adult, ads that led me to think some certain brand of household item was substantially superior to another?  Understanding the psychological principles used to make ads effect was eye opening for me. When we think of marketing, we often think first of advertisements promoting the sale of items with the goal of increasing profit, but ads can also be powerful tools for social change. One of the things I love most about courses in our program here is that we often get to hear guest lecturers who are experts in their field. I learned more about the role of social marketing in my Advanced Policy course this semester.

Social marketing is not just social media. It is the use of marketing principles to influence human behavior in order to improve health. Social marketing is useful when knowledge is not enough. For example, we all should know by know that smoking harms your health and yet people continue to smoke. Social marketing campaigns can help promote change by drawing on our emotional responses and identifying other benefits that may not be immediately apparent. In planning a social marketing campaign, it is is important to define your audience, present benefits that your audience will find appealing, and to get your message out in ways that will reach your audience. Campaigns require work at all phases. It is important to do pre-testing and be prepared for mid course correction. Then promote, promote, promote and evaluate!

4 P’s of Social Marketing

– product

– price

– place

– promotion

Some popular social marketing campaigns you might be familiar with are Smokey the Bear ads to prevent forest fires and the more recent “1 is 2 many” campaign to end sexual violence. This is a powerful example of a campaign to save a public library:

Learning about social marketing is very inspiring to me. Sometimes I can feel overwhelmed by the messages so often promoted in the media that do not promote health or social justice. But there is a way to use the same tools for good, to create positive change. I encourage all social workers to consider ways to promote their positive messages through social marketing.

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