A simple enough question that gets awfully complex when looking for it in case studies and other descriptions of practice (see BC Walks and the many programs in Social Marketing in the News). Another article from this month's issue of Preventing Chronic Disease came up on my 'social marketing' RSS feed from PubMed and reading through it caused me to ask the question again. My concern with Cherokee Choices isn't with the program they present. It's not even with their labeling of a seven-part cable television series of interviews with people who have experience with diabetes and three 30-second TV spots as a "Social Marketing Initiative."
It's that a publication and set of peer reviewers who want the statistical software [SPSS 13.0 (SPSS Inc, Chicago, Ill) and SPSS 12.0 (SPSS Inc, Chicago, Ill)], qualitative data analytic package [Atlas.ti (Atlas.ti Scientific Software Development GmbH, Berlin, Germany)] and body-fat analyzer [Futrex–6100XL body-fat analyzer (Spencer Medical Inc, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif), which can measure between 3% and 45% of body fat] documented in the paper cannot suggest to the authors that a term like Health Communication, Mass Media or Television "Initiative" might be a more appropriate description of that component of the program.
Of course, it is all a matter of priorities I suppose. My suggestion is that the journal and its reviewers have a set of questions they can ask themselves when reviewing manuscripts that contain the term 'social marketing.'
- Do the authors understand and have an insight into their target audience?
- Are they focusing on behavior as their product (what are they encouraging a large number of people to adopt or sustain)?
- Do they influence or try to alter the relative balance of incentives and costs for either maintaining the current behavior or adopting a new one?
- Do they attempt to increase access and opportunities for the audience to try the new behavior and then sustain it?
- Are communication and other promotional techniques used to assure that they reach and engage the audience in ways that are relevant, attention-getting, tap into existing motivations and aspirations and have sufficient frequency to be remembered and acted on?
If you can answer 'yes' to all of these questions, you may have a social marketing program. I say 'may' because you can meet these critieria with a diverse set of tactics that have no integrative strategy or focus for each audience. HOW the planners address each of these questions with their program is up to their own frame of reference, results of audience research, community participation, theoretical
bent, review of evidence-based practices, morals, values, ego, etc…. And how they obtain and analyze the data are another set of questions.
I believe that a lot of times it is not that people are confused about what is social marketing, they just need some help seeing it. Reviewers and editors can serve that function. Hope these questions are helpful.