While I don't agree with the authors of this study that what they are doing is social marketing, it nevertheless shows a comprehensive marketing approach to increase recruitment of specific population segments into a clinical research study.
Recruiting Minority Men Who Have Sex With Men for HIV Research: Results From a 4-City Campaign.
Am J Public Health, May, 2006.
We describe the efforts of a 4-city campaign to recruit Black and Hispanic men who have sex with men into an established HIV epidemiological study. The campaign used community organizing principles and a social marketing model that focused on personnel, location, product, costs and benefits, and promotion. The campaign was developed at the community, group, and individual levels to both increase trust and reduce barriers. The proportion of Hispanic men recruited during the 2002-2003 campaign doubled compared with the 1987 campaign, and the proportion and number of White men decreased by 20%. The proportion of Black men decreased because of the large increase in Hispanic men, although the number of Black men increased by 56%. Successful recruitment included training recruitment specialists, involving knowledgeable minority community members during planning, and having an accessible site with convenient hours.
The study is a good illustration of how marketing methods can be used to improve any number of functions that are part of an organization's mission of improving people's health and social welfare. I would not, for example, label the fund-raising methods these institutions might engage in that also use marketing tactics as 'social,' nor would I consider an audience-driven process to improving the services at their clinics as 'social' marketing either.
While the argument can be made that participation in an epidemiological study is 'behavior' that may benefit the individual and society, I believe that given the tangible nature of the services of a research study (receiving some type of medical care and follow-up) it moves off the 'social marketing' tableau. What we have here, as well as with the clinic example, is a tangible exchange relationship between the provider and the client.
What makes social marketing programs so complex is the lack of tangible exchange relationships between the offeror and the audience. It is not demeaning or a horrible thing to call some of the things we do 'marketing' - or product/services marketing if you like. What matters is the smart and effective application of marketing principles to help meet organizational objectives and in this project they were clearly successful at doing so.