Two years ago, I sat in a classroom and answered this question badly. I had signed up for a social marketing class because it was the only relevant course offered in english at this particular university. Goodness it felt silly to get it so wrong, sitting in the very first class. I had suddenly lost all reason for being there. Fortunately, no-one else really knew either (what were we all doing?). Anyway, I shrivelled back in my chair, feeling every part the ignorant foreigner, as the teacher scanned the room for more victims.
That single course sparked in me an interest in social marketing, and when my undergraduate degree in Communications finished up the following year, I wanted to know more. Now I've spent the bulk of 2017 immersing myself in this relatively new field, as I complete an honours program about some of the ins and outs. When I'm done, I'll write another blog post that summarises my thesis.
Now, after one year I'm certainly no expert, but I've learnt enough to want to share what social marketing is. The truth is, social marketing is a part of our everyday lives, and has influenced a number of health, social and environmental behaviours in Australia. Social marketing is interesting, and has very tangible impact on our lives and choices in a number of ways. I've been doing alot of academic writing about social marketing, but I've really not heard much public discourse about it. So here's a little something.
From my conversations with people, the biggest misconception or assumption about social marketing is that it's about social media. Fair enough, I get the confusion. That's what it sounds like it would be. It was my best guess two years ago too. As it turns out, sometimes social media is used within a social marketing program, but for the sake of clarity, it suffices to say that social marketing is NOT about social media.
Essentially, social marketing is the application of marketing strategies and tools for behaviour change. So, instead of selling commercial products like coca-cola or soft leather couches, social marketing sells behaviours; for health, environmental and social good. It takes the science and psychology of the consumer, and applies it to behaviour change. Many of the problems social marketing has tackled so far have been health-related. Infact, many of the campaigns you've seen encouraging you to exercise, eat healthy, drink responsibly or quit smoking have probably been informed by social marketing to varying degrees. More recently, the domain of social marketing has expanded into social and environmental issues such as safe driving, human trafficking, recycling and water use.
Social marketing works to shift behaviour change understanding beyond the 'top-down' messages that basically say 'stop what you're doing and do something else'. Research shows that this just doesn't work. Social marketing aims to find out exactly what it will motivate us to change, and pinpoints these motivations to offer a viable exchange. Far more than just a catchy slogan or brand, social marketing programs focuses on elements that reduce the barriers to, and promote or enhance the benefits of the new behaviour.
For example, let me explain this using the food waste project I've been involved in this year, called Waste Not Want Not. It started with Redland City Council approaching the Social Marketing @ Griffith team to help them reduce the amount of food waste gong into their local waste processing system and eventually on to landfill.
Instead of a running a campaign that simply says 'reduce food waste at home', the team here worked directly with residents to develop a campaign that promoted instead, the benefits of food waste reduction. Namely that reducing food waste can save you time and money. Residents told us what foods they most commonly throw away, and we partnered with some of Brisbane's best chefs to develop a series of recipes designed to encourage residents to cook with those very foods. A display was set up in a local shopping centre featuring daily cooking demonstrations, a masterchef-style cook-off event, free recipe cards, chopping boards, shopping bags, and shopping list notepads with campaign branding to help prompt behaviours. We surveyed about 100 residents and they told us the program increased their confidence to cook with leftover ingredients at home. Not only this, but residents indicated that they threw out significantly less fruit and veg, after just 2 weeks of exposure to the program. See some of the recipes and other content we produced for that program here.
So, there's a glimpse of social marketing. That's where my brain has been for the last 5 months. And I believe it may very well have the potential to help us live better healthier, more sustainable lives here on the earth. If you'd like to learn more, check out this free online course built by my supervisor here at Griffith.