Social marketing

What is social marketing?

Social marketing is using the techniques of marketing to change behaviors – influencing people to change their practices rather than simply to buy products. It has been used to help people quit smoking, use different light bulbs, and study more effectively. It could help people choose less-polluting transportation here in Jakarta.

When to use social marketing?

„If motivating people to change is:

  • Easy or unimportant, then education might be appropriate – for example, providing information about train schedules or the location of bicycle lanes works for people who already are committed to these forms of transportation. But generally (and sadly) education is less effective than marketing or force.
  • Difficult or vital, then force – ideally, a law that is effectively enforced – is the proper approach. One problem is getting governments to pass such laws and then to enforce them.
  • Moderately difficult, moderately important, or difficult/vital but not addressed effectively via force – social marketing might be the best approach. It’s not universally effective, but it’s often the best approach available to NGOs, classroom teachers, or even government agencies that can’t count on effective enforcement of existing laws.
„Some principles

„The default choice has a strong influence on behavior. People often go with their default even when it makes less sense than an alternative – such as when someone reflexively chooses to drive one block to run an errand. In recent years, I’ve changed my default choice of meat. When ordering an entree, I used to automatically think of beef; now, for environmental reasons, my default is chicken.

Social marketing needs to promote a specific action – such as “eat chicken instead of beef.” People rarely know how to implement broad slogans like “Say yes to life.” For example, in Jakarta, the slogan “Go Green” is everywhere and popular, but what does ‘going green’ entail? An organization here named Bike2Work has the right idea.

Characteristics of the behavior being promoted„„

In marketing a new default option, the specific behavior should be made:

  • Easy
    • Engineering can be key here.„ Examples of making change easy include:
      • Volunteers promoting fluorescent bulbs in Canada took the bulbs door-to-door and offered to give one to each household and install it on-the-spot.
      • Anti-STD campaigns make condoms free and easy to obtain anonymously.
      • As a college professor, I wanted students to learn the habits that would lead to success in my class. So I asked former students who earned A’s to write how they approached the class, I posted their accounts prominently on the course’s website, and I took class time to show students how to open the document.
  • Emotionally rewarding
    • People are more likely to perform actions that make them feel happy, heroic, or some other positive emotion.
      • Part of Invisible Children‘s success is making its supporters – many of them teens – feel heroic by participating in fundraising, protests, and other activities.
  • Popular
    • This is so important. Most (but certainly not all) people follow the crowd or join the club, so providing peer models or aspirational models (that is, celebrities) can motivate people to change. Thus, examples from real life or from mass media have great influence. Also, involving people in a group that engages in a new behavior (for example, sobriety) or with a mentor who will help them adopt it can help everyone involved to solidify this new default.
    • One of the most effective methods of promoting new health-related behaviors is to portray them in soap operas in which the protagonist swerves between the influence of negative and positive characters before ultimately choosing the healthy path.
    • Prius sales skyrocketed once celebrities announced that they drove this car.
    • When I started walking to work, others living along my path literally joined me. Eventually, some walked more regularly than I did.
    • The examples cited above of Invisible Children and of my A students apply here, too. Sadly, so does the Tea Party.
  • Appropriate to the context
    • What works in Portland or Singapore might not work so well in Jakarta, as discussed in the example below. In short: smaller changes are easier to implement successfully.
An example

Specific behavior: Using bike lanes

Reportedly, Jakarta is about to build several new bike lanes. Its only existing bike lane doesn’t start or end at a significant destination, and often it’s filled with street-side vendors, motorcycles, and parked cars. I have yet to see a cyclist try to use it. So how  might we promote the use of these new bike lanes by, you know, cyclists?

  • Make the bike path start from a residential area or mass-transit center.
  • Provide bicycle parking at the transit center.„
  • Make the path go directly past major destinations.
„Emotionally rewarding
  • Cycling is already enjoyable, but it could be more fun, especially in Jakarta, if it were turned into a group activity, such as a commuting club.
  • „Signs along the bike path could congratulate, praise, or encourage users.
  • „Pro-cycling groups could ensure that others see people using the bike path. Groups promoting bicycle use should fill the new bike-lane in its early days, to model its use.
  • Maybe these groups could give prizes to people who use the path or create a contest among users or arrange trips along the path or accompany new cyclists.
„„Appropriate to the context

„In Jakarta:

  • Bike paths should be covered. Many Jakartans feel a very strong aversion to getting hit by rain and, actually, sunlight. Thus, more walkways here are covered than in similarly hot or rainy U.S. cities.
  • Access by motorbikes should be physically blocked – thus becoming bike paths rather than lanes. Many drivers in Jakarta are extreme ‘me-firsters,’ and motorbikes are so maneuverable that their owners commonly drive along sidewalks, in pedestrian malls, the wrong way down one-way streets, in dedicated bus lanes, and even along the separate bike path at the University of Indonesia. They – and cars, buses, and ambulant vendors – will take over any unprotected space.
  • Community groups or private institutions should maintain the path.„ Different government agencies have demonstrated a clear pattern of building good infrastructure for transportation but not maintaining it, as can be seen at train stations, busway stops, and sidewalks.
  • The establishment of bike paths should cause minimal change to the existing network of roads. This makes it easier to accomplish from an engineering standpoint and a political one. Plenty of open space exists along canals; perhaps segments of bike paths could be located there.

An easy way to practice the logic of social marketing is to consider your organization’s website. How do you want people to use it? Have you made it easy, emotionally rewarding, and apparently popular for your target audience?

(Hmm, maybe I could have done more of that here.)„

„One more time …
  • Create a new default option.
  • Promote a behavior that is specific.
  • Make the targeted change in behavior:
    • easy
    • emotionally rewarding
    • seemingly popular
    • appropriate to the existing situation.
Other resources

This introduction to social marketing is based on principles learned from a variety of sources. These include academic and news articles, my own research, and the following:


One response to “Social marketing

  1. Social marketing plays on human behaviours and other social influences.Social class also has a part to play in any given situation, see my blog for further reading and please feel free to give your opinions.


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