Barbara A. Moeykens, a Social Marketing Specialist in the Vermont Department of Health, made a presentation at the University of South Florida Social Marketing in Public Health Conference a few years ago in which she looked at the number of citations of the term "social marketing" in the professional literature through a Medline search. She updated those data in 2004 and has graciously allowed me to publish the summary table here.
The chart shows the expected increases in social marketing citations from 1976 through 2004 (note: either left click on the thumbnail or right click on it and select "Open Link in New Window" for a full screen view). After a rather stable rate of approximately 20/year throughout the '90s, her data show a 5-fold increase in citations from 1999 through 2004. A great showing that documents the increasing use of the term in titles and abstracts of papers (whether these authors are all appropriately using the term to describe their activities is another question). As she also points out, the search may not be capturing all references to social marketing in the professional literature, but for my money, using the same methodology across all years gives me confidence that her trends are likely quite reliable and valid. For those of you who are regular readers of the "Social Marketing in the News" sections I have been posting on my other blog, it would be interesting to see whether similar trends might have occurred in the general media.