Social marketing was "born" as a discipline in the 1970s, when Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman realized that the same marketing principles that were being used to sell products to consumers could be used to "sell" ideas, attitudes and behaviors. Kotler and Andreasen define social marketing as "differing from other areas of marketing only with respect to the objectives of the marketer and his or her organization. Social marketing seeks to influence social behaviors not to benefit the marketer, but to benefit the target audience and the general society." This technique has been used extensively in international health programs, especially for contraceptives and oral rehydration therapy (ORT), and is being used with more frequency in the United States for such diverse topics as drug abuse, heart disease and organ donation.
This campaign was created by the New York City-based nonprofit organization Partnership for a Drug-Free America, known today as Partnership at Drugfree.org. The spot has been copied, quoted, and spoofed countless times since, and still lives on today as one of the most memorable and effective examples of social marketing—a specialized form of advertising that aims not to sell products, but to change the world.
Before we discuss social marketing further, however, it's important to have a grasp on the principles of commercial marketing, since that is what it's based on. As community health workers, or members of non-profit organizations, the idea might seem a bit odd. We're used to a completely different mindset. Terms like "marketing" may conjure up images of big business and corporate greed; they certainly don't make us think of programs to try to help our neighbors.
Commercial marketing with a social focus may run the gamut from advertising a new 100 per cent recycled plastic water bottle to encouraging people to buy a more fuel-efficient car. While these marketing campaigns are promoting eco-friendly products that will certainly have benefits for society, their primary focus is not societal good, it is selling a product.