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Debating The Value Of Social Marketing

As we begin defrosting our turkeys and preparing to receive (or become) dinnersocial_marketing_defined.jpg guests, our thoughts often turn to gift giving.  While many focus on what they will give to friends and family, others take the time to make their annual contributions to charities of their choice.  

Given this, it is somewhat appropriate that social marketers are debating the value of their efforts.  Social marketers use some of the techniques developed to sell commercial products to encourage people to engage in healthy behaviors.  (While some refer to social media communications as “social marketing,” they are two very distinct disciplines.  One term should not be used to describe the other.)

Recently, prominent social marketer Craig Lefebvre has fueled a debate about the value of his profession by responding to a critical Boston Globe article, titled “A Handout, Not A Hand Up”).  According to the Globe:


“In public health, many aid groups have embraced a strategy of stimulating demand for goods such as condoms, anti-malaria bed nets, and water-purification systems through education and advertising, and then selling them at very low prices through health clinics, kiosks, and itinerant vendors. One goal of this strategy, called 'social marketing,' is to create homegrown distribution networks that wouldn't exist if the products were simply given away. But another has been to persuade people to value products that are good for them, and for several decades it's been the conventional wisdom that unless people spend money on something they will be unlikely to value it - or use it. Give things away and they will be taken for granted, it's thought.

But in the last couple of years there has been a sharp backlash against this philosophy that has pushed its practitioners off-balance and led economists to take sides. Some officials with the World Health Organization have started to speak out against the practice. High-profile development scholars, including the Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, have joined a chorus of criticism, and several economic studies have chipped away at the rationale behind social marketing. A detailed study of drug distribution in Kenya, published in the latest issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, finds that social marketing does not work, leaving more people to suffer. The debate is now roiling development circles, and its outcome may determine the shape of major worldwide efforts to combat malaria, AIDS, diarrhea, and other maladies that take millions of lives annually.”

Lefebvre thinks that the conversation is worthwhile . . . if it “addresses the question: Which distribution and pricing strategies, promoted for which products and services, under what conditions, work for specific groups of people?”

However, some of Lefebvre’s colleagues questioned the “free = life” argument advocated by some critics of social marketing.   Their thesis: if people don’t pay for it, they won’t value it.  For example, one social marketer said:

“The issue I would have with these studies is that the relevant behavior should not be how many people GET drugs or condoms or bed nets. It is: how many were used! The argument for charging (usually very low) prices and not giving things away is that they will be used because the target market has invested in them.”  

Another commented: “Public programs and Bill Gates can give away a lot of products but if they just sit there and not get used, it is not good social marketing. (An MBA student told me of visiting a household in Africa and finding 50 bed nets in a second floor room. When she asked about them, the person said: ‘Oh those are no good. They were free from the government.’”

Does free = life or free = inferior when it comes to convincing people to use life saving/sustaining products and services?  Lefebvre cites a few international studies looking at the role of pricing in social marketing programs designed to encourage healthy behaviors.  However, he is disappointed that “many of our domestic social marketing programs here in the US have not given as much attention to pricing.”

This is certainly a lot to chew on as we sup (read: gorge) on turkey, share drinks with friends and give thanks for our good fortune.  

On that note, I’d like to thank all of you who read and comment on this blog on a regular basis.  Your continued support is very much appreciated.  

3 Comments/Trackbacks

Thanks for opening the conversation about 'paid' vs 'free here Fard. I'd be interested in how readers here approach this issue in the US when it comes to questions of the value of co-payments for health services (is the argument that they reduce unnecessary use of services valid - empirically tested?), studies of price sensitivity to and elasticity of health insurance premiums (for both individuals and businesses) and access to care, and whether subsidized payments for prescription medications (Medicare) lead to inequities in health status and outcomes? These are just a few areas of overlapping interest among the social marketing and health care marketing worlds these days.

Worst black friday ever. From the current info on the internet, this is really the worst black friday ever.
My shopping list:

About debating the value Of social marketing, I saw a report at , You know abstract social marketing, the use of marketing to design and implement programs to promote socially beneficial behavior change, has grown in popularity and usage within the public health community. I got to know a book "Social Marketing: Advances in Research and Theory" which gives us the detail, I think it is very good, I found this book here: ,
Someone whose goals that include changing behavior over time can read it.

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