The New York Critic: Book Reviews

Social Marketing
Strategies for Changing Public Behavior
by Philip Kotler and Eduardo L. Roberto
The Free Press - a Division of Macmillan, Inc., New York

If the progressive movement is to create a more just society, it will be necessary to influence the attitudes, behaviors, and values of individuals directly. Legislation alone will not suffice; a society is only as good as the people in it.

The first step is the decision to design our programs for maximum effectiveness. This by no means goes without saying; many of our leaders encourage us to formulate our programs and platforms according to dogmatic rules - political correctness. The optimal course of behavior in any situation must be determined rationally, not ideologically. Don't let's make the errors that the communists have made since Marx.

The next step is to learn the rules by which the people who shape our voluntary behavior have been working all along. It is marketers as a class who have influenced our culture and manipulated our behavior more than any other group. They've convinced us that smoking Marlboros will make us macho, and that Ultra Brite will give us sex appeal. We've scoffed, but we've bought the products, and made middle-class America into a sort of ultra-romanticist, tautological Utopia, where reality exists as we believe it.

Of course, marketers have concerned themselves with making money, not with making the world a better place. Greed has made marketing the most pragmatic, the most result-oriented of disciplines, giving single-minded application to principles borrowed from more academically pure fields.

Whatever we think of the discipline, it is pre-eminently effective, and we would do well to study its principles and to apply them to the social welfare. Social Marketing, by Philip Kotler and Eduardo Roberto, allows us to do just that.

Social marketing is the use of marketing techniques to effect social change, the marketing of ideas and behaviors. Its thesis is simple: "...the more a social change campaign resembles a commercial product campaign, the more successful it is likely to be."

Kotler and Eduardo are the foremost marketers in the field, and Social Marketing is an exhaustive investigation of marketing issues applied to social amelioration, from research and market analysis through volunteer supervision and program evaluation. At its center is a detailed discussion of the social and psychological dynamics unique to the adoption of "social products", the ideas or behaviors we're trying to instill.


As marketers we must design the social product in such a way as to meet a need of the "target adopters", the people we're trying to influence. This tenet is the essence of the "marketing concept", and it's crucial. How many social campaigns have presented themselves as meeting the needs of the people affected, instead of the people acting? We need to make it clear that racial tolerance creates a better society for all of us, not just for the minorities, and that aid to refugees will make us feel better about ourselves.


We have to develop the fit between the target's needs and our social product. First of all, we need to define our target adopters. The public is too heterogenous to be addressed as a whole. Whom, specifically, do we want to reach? Whose needs are we meeting and what do we know about them in terms of sociology, psychology, and behavior? If we try to effect everybody - and we do this a lot - we'll end up effecting no one.


Defining this fit - "positioning" the product - is a matter of identifying the needs of the target segment and matching them with potential manifestations of the product.


The target segment itself will determine the ideas and behaviors that we're suggesting to achieve our larger social goal. For example, professionals might be asked to fight AIDS by making financial contributions; students might be asked to volunteer their time. Business commuters might fight pollution by car-pooling; industry might adopt cleaner technologies.


We can then decide what motivation will precipitate compliance. If we're urging the public to vote, we could appeal, for example, to a sense of duty, or to a sense of identification with a role model (Madonna has encouraged her fans to vote). What mechanisms are quicker, and which create a more permanent effect?


Potential motivational forces should be identified, and here we refer to the familiar hierarchy of needs developed by Maslow (oddly, Kotler and Roberto neglect Maslow, although marketers routinely refer to him). What need are we addressing? Is it appropriate for the circumstances of the individuals? A campaign supporting the preservation of tradition among native Americans might address the need for belongingness; a program to popularize crop rotation among third-world farmers will involve a more basic need.

Vis-a-vis the hierarchy of needs, it's worth noting what amounts to an unspoken tenet of marketers: given the choice, they'd prefer to address a higher need. They don't market coats to keep us warm if they can market them to make us beautiful; their cars don't meet our need for transportation as much as they do our need for prestige. Thus, marketers have been purporting to meet our spiritual needs with physical goods, while we (who are trying to make the world a better place) have been irresolute, working with outdated techniques and false scruples.


What lessons are to be learned from the study of consumer behavior? The various types of adoption behavior, such as adoption based on information, or adoption based on values, can be classified according to how quickly they occur, or by how long we can expect them to last. Which type is more suited to our needs?


How can we influence the spread of the specific behavior among the target adopters? The first to comply with our campaign goal, the "innovators", will be influenced by the accessibility of compliance - how easy can we make it? Are we offering pre-printed letters for target individuals to send to their legislators, in a political campaign? Are there litter baskets accessible, in an clean-up campaign?


We can manipulate the factors effecting the spread of the behavior or idea involved. For instance, we can minimize the costs of adoption. Identifying and managing intangible costs are particularly important, since we often are concerned with the effects of stigma, fear, and tradition, but these problems are often manageable. We can support the spread of contraception by encouraging community leaders to speak in support of the practice (to reduce the effects of stigma and tradition), and by distributing information (in response to a fear of usage).


It's helpful to identify the particular elements of a social program that involve the use of a tangible. The marketing process involves first promoting the product concept (such as safe sex), and then selling the product tangible (condoms). In the latter phase, the branding and packaging of the product will be important.


Aside from examining the market itself, we need to understand the salient factors in the marketing environment. What demographic, economic, physical (urban vs. rural, for example), technological, legal, and sociocultural elements might come into play? And we have to do some future mapping. What uncertainty exists vis-a-vis each of these elements? How can we prepare for them? Not-for-profit ventures as a whole have traditionally been remiss in long-term planning: we'd do well to develop contingency plans, not only to respond to untoward developments, but to exploit potential opportunities, as well.


Aside from developing an appropriate positioning for the social product itself, the social marketer must find a positioning for the organization visibly behind the campaign. The social message must be perceived as coming from a credible source. We can acknowledge sympathetic recognized organizations (as anti-abortion groups have been buttressed by the "religious" right) but we must also manage the image of our own agency. Credibility is a function of expertise, trustworthiness, and likability; our job is to maximize the market's perception of us in these terms, by promoting our credentials, our achievements, and our ties to the community.


The promotion function of a campaign is complex, and in no area is the discipline of marketing more developed. Social Marketing investigates mass, selective, and personal communication. The focus of promotion must reflect the appropriate stage of the adoption process, from the intent to adopt the suggested behavior, through repeated adoption.

Advertising must express succinctly the positioning chosen, reflecting the target and appealing to the motivation involved. Certain anti-smoking ads, for example, have used young black actresses to address minority teens.

The text notes effective nonverbal elements of communication: a forceful voice; open body positions; greater spatial distance for non-intimate messages. We're struck, here, by the skill of the "religious" right: the televangelist is knows his marketing at least as well as his Bible.

Of the three promotional tools, personal selling is the most important for our purposes, and ideally follows media communication. Anti-smoking ads aimed at teens are augmented by personal participation in high school health fairs.


Kotler and Roberto present a particularly interesting discussion of participatory adoption, "an active process by which beneficiary or client groups influence the direction and execution of a development project with a view to enhancing their well-being..." Its objective is to empower the target group to initiate and sustain on their own the beneficial behavior. This is the enlightened community development strategy that assimilates the cultural and physical realities of the target population. Decisions concerning the product design, its pricing, promotion, and distribution, are generated by the community itself.

As Social Marketing notes, we must be careful that the prerequisite conditions for participatory adoption are present. We would hesitate, for example, to ask a subsistence economy to defer gratification. This "people-centered" development is clearly not appropriate for the most needy populations, such as refugees and famine victims.


There is in Social Marketing an unexpected chapter on developing support from "gatekeeper" or "influence center" institutions. Using a market-motivation approach, we determine the potential motivations of prospective allies, their sense of responsibility, responsiveness, and/or practicality.

Tactics for mobilizing these groups are determined by the decision-making style of the group. A rational style demands the transmission of information; a bureaucracy demands our knowledge of its procedures; groups with a political decision-making style necessitate negotiation and bargaining.

This approach is contrasted with a power-politics approach, which submits the five bases of power from which we might effect influence groups: rewards; coercion; expertise; legitimacy; prestige. Strategies to wield power may focus on facilitation (minimizing the cost to the target agency) or identification (the perceived alignment of goals ).

Gaining support from these power bases involves influencing the group's evaluation process or agenda, building coalition, or co-optation. Of these, it's coalition, the use of consensus, that characterizes the current progressive movement. The powerful coalition of the feminist and gay movements for example, developed when heterosexism was redefined as a subset of misogyny.

The chapter is remarkable in its breadth, if the authors are rather forcing an inclusive definition of marketing.


Social Marketing explores the management itself of the social campaign. The structuring of the organization is examined, as are the steps of the implementation process and the ongoing control mechanisms. Note the emphasis on the necessity for specific, feasible and measurable objectives, and their development as the initial step in the implementation of a campaign.


Social engineers have been generally lax in the area of evaluation. We need know not only the deliberate effects of our work, but also the unintended effects, and the causal links. Did the process itself have unforeseen societal effects?

In the final analysis, the ultimate goal of all social campaigns is behavioral change. When we focus on the public adoption of an idea, we're really only setting the stage for the next step, the diffusion of a behavior. Ideas that don't translate into action are useless to us. Research shows that the overwhelming majority of Americans favor gun control, but we consistently vote into office politicians who withhold their support.


The writers address the unprecedented issues of ethical evaluation. What are the implications of assigning individuals to a control group in experimental research on nutrition? How do we predict the unintended consequences of a campaign? What are the effects of raising the aspirations of the target population? Marketers hardly have a history of impressive concern with ethics, and these questions present serious challenges to the profession.


Of all disciplines, marketing is the most pragmatic. Couple it with ideas, rather than mere commodities, and the result may well be a field of historic significance. Kotler and Roberto articulate the point: " change campaigns and social marketing are not simply a set of tools to accomplish social change. They represent a new ideology, or mindset, the assimilation of which can prepare the ground for widespread and more effective social change."

The authors choose to "emphasize social causes that enjoy widespread public support", pointing out that "more people in more societies are eager for social change ... than ever before" The limitation is stringent. Much social injustice is so basic to the collective consciousness, and so institutionalized, that change is not a popular cause.

The restriction is particularly unfortunate because it's unnecessary. There is a fine line between what people know they need and what they don't yet realize they need, and marketers have been adept at channeling identified needs into invented secondary needs. Even D.W. Griffith could not have known that motion pictures would meet so many of our needs. And who would have guessed that "pagan" peoples needed Christianity before countless missionaries told them that they had needed it all the time?

The skill lies in product positioning. The very intangibility of social products gives them a protean quality that provides marketers with positioning options any goods-marketer would envy. Hitler marketed evil as virtue, and national suicide as victory, and millions bought it.

And yet, their choice of examples of successful campaigns (such as the Stanford Heart Disease Prevention Campaign), does not acknowledge the "ideology's" real potential or tradition. Such phenomena as spread of Christianity and the rise of Nazism constitute social marketing's towering prototypes, not health education campaigns.

These two movements were planned, not spontaneous, and they were comprised of all five elements of a social campaign: cause; change agent; target adopters; channels (communication pathways); change strategy. Nazism exploited a favorable attitude base (canalization).

The campaigns were complex in their goals, involving all four classes of social causes. The most simple sought cognitive change: religious or racial belief. Representing the next two classes, single actions and repeated behaviors were executed. The most difficult class of social product is a change in values, and both movements had this at their core.

Coercion and legal sanctions aside, the use of social marketing techniques in these messianic campaigns is striking. The behaviors involved were made accessible; services were associated with tangibles. We should note, in fact, that tangibles were used heavily as representations of the ideas themselves.

The assimilation of established ideas, behaviors, and symbols into the social product is powerful marketing mechanism, and its use was paramount in both cases. Assimilation was the definitive tool of the missionary, who studied the customs and iconography of non-Christian cultures, and then "dressed up" Christianity in these traditions; Buddhists used the same technique in the conversion of Japan. Hitler used it in draping fascism in the symbols of the romantic Germanic tradition.

One of Hitler's greatest advantages was his monopolization of the media. The Church has revelled in censorship from the Index of Prohibited Books in 1559. While granting the importance of media monopolization, Kotler and Roberto disregard it as inapplicable. In fact, the American media exhibits a strong trend toward conditions that allow for ideological monopolization. The very structure of the industry exhibits the problem: the number of American cities with competing newspapers has decreased substantially in the past decades.

As the national movement toward censorship gains momentum, the monopolization of messages becomes increasingly apparent. We can only hope that social marketers as a class will exhibit Kotler and Roberto's concern with ethics, a concern that must be married to the discipline.

Steve Capra

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