By Lindsay Goodman                                                                  September 18, 2018


We interact with marketing every day – on the television, the internet, social media, and on signs and billboards on the street. However, not all marketing is the same. Different types of marketing are used to send messages to consumers depending on the end goal. When you first think of marketing, you most likely think of examples of commercial marketing and advertisements selling products. Social marketing is like commercial marketing in many ways, but while commercial marketing aims to sell a product, social marketing seeks to change behavior.


Social marketing campaigns promote positive behavior change focused on a specific audience and measure progress to determine lasting impact. In public health communication, we use social marketing strategies to positively change health behavior among an intended audience. The steps below highlight important factors to consider when building a social marketing campaign to influence behavior change.


1. Scoping

Determine the campaign purpose by understanding what you want to accomplish.


2. Selecting

Understanding the behavior you want to change and the goals for your campaign will help you select the right target audience.


3. Understanding

Recognizing what your audience will perceive to be the benefits and barriers of the desired behavior change will help you understand the motivations of your target audience.


4. Designing

Decide how to position the desired behavior by understanding how to make the behavior accessible and achievable for your target audience.


5. Managing

Planning a timeline for implementing the campaign and designing a plan for evaluation will help you measure your campaign’s success over time and make changes to the campaign as needed.


With the right work done up-front, social marketing campaigns are used to affect positive social change such as preventing teen smoking and decreasing the prevalence of driving under the influence of alcohol. The power of social marketing is seen in the examples below and in the positive impact on health behaviors.


-The Truth Initiative, launched in 1998, aimed to eliminate tobacco use among young adults in the U.S. At the start of the Truth Initiative, 23% of American teens were regular smokers. The campaign partnered with media and MTV to reach their intended audience and built collaborative programs, events, and experiences for their target audience. A 2017 report in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that American teens who feel more favorably towards the Truth brand are less likely to be smokers, and for those that do smoke, they are more than twice as likely to express intentions to quit in the next year. In 2018, the Truth Initiative reports that less than 6% of American teens are regular smokers.


-In 1985, the Harvard School of Public Health launched the Designated Driver campaign to prevent driving under the influence of alcohol. The campaign used social marketing to socialize the term “designated driver”, a phrase previously used in Scandinavia, and to increase its understanding, use, and practice. Four years after the campaign launched, fatalities due to drinking and driving in the U.S. declined by 25%. Additionally, the term, “designated driver”, is now a household phrase in the United States, appearing in the Webster College Dictionary in 1991.


The success of these campaigns demonstrate that social marketing can be an important and successful strategy to promote positive behavior change. These same principles can be applied to changing health behavior among any target audience. Social marketing can be an important communication tool that can be used to positively influence the healthy behavior, and can even save lives.


At Powell Strategies, we have the social marketing knowledge to reach your target audience and we are prepared to help you make a difference in people’s lives.