Some interesting responses to my article The problem with social marketing – why you can’t sell change like soap

From a senior social marketing consultant:


I also find social marketing limited but have to report that it has become an industry. It now has to sustain itself and all the bureaucratic university and publishing infrastructure that has grown up around it. Many of the social marketing conferences seem to devote a fair slab of time to navel-gazing or defending the theory. Or they just keep expanding the horizons so it includes EVERYTHING. I recently sat in on a planning meeting for a new social marketing body in Australia recently and it was filled with University social marketing professors who were mainly concerned with the status of the publication associated with the conference.


From a social science professor:


Les – I agree – and I look forward to reading it in more detail – this takes me back to arguments I had in Canada with McKenzie-Mohr about 20 years ago!! – for me there is a big difference between ‘enabling’ change (which often first involves ‘personal healing’) and ‘manipulating’ change – the former is sustainable and co-evolving, whereas the latter is usually transitory and open to the next ‘manipulation’.


From a sexual health marketer:


Thanks Les – an excellent, accessible article. I wish we could devote our sexual health marketing dollars to working directly with small groups of young people instead of paying kids in advertising agencies to come up with the next catchy ‘grab’.


From a health promotion officer:


You raise lots of great points in your paper. I basically agree with what you say. When I first started out working in communications as a grad I started off by buying into the usual spiel around the influence of mass media etc. which is obviously still true to some extent but at that stage I wasn’t able to be as critical of social marketing as I am now. Through my work over the last few years in health promotion, I really do feel like mass media advertising and the like is often money down the drain – it looks like you’re doing more than you actually are. Unfortunately though, it’s really difficult to use all of the principles you went through in your Enabling Change workshop because of lack of time and money. But I believe that I have personally gotten better at thinking more laterally and abandoning lots of usual practices that sound good but do nothing in terms of impact. Anyway, it’s a work in progress and I still have a lot of learn about all of this!


From an state agency social scientist:


Well argued! I think maybe you are a bit unkind to social marketing based programs and frameworks that extend the conception of barriers and benefits beyond the psychosocial, but you are certainly right as far as I can see that major government campaigns and the consultants who provide them tend to generate very narrow and inconsequential interventions (except in visibility impact – perhaps we need a more social change literate electorate policing these things and punishing low change, high visibility efforts).


Also, interestingly, a stinging critique in the New York Times of the use of social marketing to promote the adoption of pesticide-treated mosquito nets in sub-sahara Africa.