In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social Marketing

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Principles
  • Theory
  • Marketing Orientation and Segmentation
  • Formative Research
  • Positioning and Brands
  • Monitoring and Evaluation
  • Dissemination
  • Case Studies

Public Health Social Marketing
R. Craig Lefebvre, Claudia M. Squire
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 February 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0100


Social marketing is a framework for the application of the marketing discipline to social issues and causes. It has emerged from the application of marketing theory and practice to meet the practical needs to scale up solutions to health and social puzzles around the world. It is a social change tool uniquely suited to achieve social benefits by designing integrated programs that meet individual needs for moving out of poverty, enabling health, improving social conditions, and having a safe and clean environment. Social marketing began as a practice and discipline in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many of its early applications were in developing countries to address public health and social crises including population control and infectious diseases. In the early 1970s, social marketing was formally described and was used to prevent chronic diseases and reduce risk behaviors in developed countries. The principles of social marketing are being applied in agencies around the world including the US Agency for International Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States; the Department for International Development and the English Department of Health in the United Kingdom; KfW Entwicklungsbank in Germany; the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian International Development Agency; the Netherlands Government Ministry for Foreign Affairs; the Australian Ministry for Health and Ageing; and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, among others. Social marketing is included in national health promotion and disease prevention strategies in Australia and England. It meets the needs of Health 2020, the European policy for health and well-being, and Healthy People 2020, the 10-year national health objectives for the United States. Social marketing stands apart from other approaches to health promotion and disease prevention, environmental sustainability, safety and injury prevention, and other health and social puzzles by searching for population-level impacts that can be achieved through the use of marketing techniques. These techniques include segmenting audiences rather than treating everyone as the same, designing more relevant and useful products and services, realigning incentives and removing barriers to behavior change, improving access to healthier and more socially beneficial products and services, increasing opportunities to practice healthier and more environmentally sustainable behaviors, and using communication strategies to encourage and support positive behavior changes that ultimately benefit society as a whole. It is a dynamic discipline stretching to help people create solutions to health and social puzzles that are more effective, efficient, equitable, and sustainable than what we have today.


A number of textbooks offer the basic principles and approach of social marketing. Most adhere to a presentation that includes the following elements: using a people-focused approach to program development, conducting a situation analysis or environmental scan, differentiating and concentrating on specific population segments, conducting research with priority groups to develop programs that are relevant to their problems and circumstances, designing implementation programs using the marketing mix (see section on the Marketing Mix), instituting program implementation monitoring systems, and performing evaluations that emphasize behavioral outcomes. One of the earliest texts, Manoff 1985 describes social marketing as primarily involving the use of mass media in developing countries to address public health imperatives such as diarrheal diseases, family planning, and nutrition programs for mothers and children. It was among the first to view adopting new behaviors as part of the “product” offerings of social marketing programs. Kotler and Roberto 1989 lays out a systematic approach to marketing social change that involves ideas, practices, and tangible objects as the “social product.” Andreasen 1995 stresses the requirement to conduct research with people, and to “listen” before developing any programs and strategies. It also introduces the transtheoretical (or stages of change) model as an overarching way to segment people and tailor social marketing offerings to each group. The following textbooks provide similar overviews of the social marketing approach and offer examples that are weighed toward particular regions: Donovan and Henley 2010 (Australia); Hastings 2007 (Scotland); French, et al. 2010 (United Kingdom); and Lee and Kotler 2011 (United States), and thus provide better relevance and context for students in these countries. Lefebvre 2013 provides a broader view of social marketing to include changing markets, social innovation, and social theories of change; it weaves together much of the published literature on social marketing to present a more comprehensive survey of the theory and evidence base of the discipline.

  • Andreasen, A. R. 1995. Marketing social change: Changing behavior to promote health, social development, and the environment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    A seminal textbook that includes an introduction to social marketing principles and the presentation of a behavior change framework based on the stages of change model. It emphasizes listening to consumers throughout the process of creating and carrying out an effective social marketing strategy.

  • Donovan, R., and N. Henley. 2010. Principles and practice of social marketing: An international perspective. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511761751

    Utilizes case studies drawn from Australian and international programs to present social marketing principles. The authors also advocate for social marketing to focus on changing the environment and policies.

  • French, J., C. Blair-Stevens, D. McVey, and R. Merritt, eds. 2010. Social marketing and public health: Theory and practice. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Incorporates the contributions of a variety of authors to represent the social marketing discipline, mostly from a UK perspective. Its core themes stress the importance of starting from an audience perspective, and need for systematic planning to develop and implement effective social marketing programs.

  • Hastings, G. 2007. Social marketing: Why should the devil have all the best tunes? Oxford: Elsevier.

    Includes the social marketing principles and a series of stand-alone case studies. Argues for social marketers to adopt a more relational approach to behavior change rather than one solely based on transactions. The author calls for social marketing that scrutinizes commercial marketing practices; also known as “critical marketing.”

  • Kotler, P., and E. L. Roberto. 1989. Social marketing: Strategies for changing public behavior. New York: Free Press.

    Adapts marketing management techniques to social change: setting measurable objectives, conducting research among people from different target markets, creating the right “fit” between offerings and audience needs, managing service delivery in support of these offerings, mobilizing influence groups, and monitoring and evaluating social marketing programs.

  • Lee, N. R., and P. Kotler. 2011. Social marketing: Influencing behaviors for good. 4th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    Case studies from the United States and around the world are used to present the social marketing principles. The book focuses on the specific steps in planning and implementing programs to improve health, decrease injuries, and protect the environment.

  • Lefebvre, R. C. 2013. Social marketing and social change: Strategies and tools for improving health, well-being, and the environment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Covers the basic principles and approach and provides an evidence base and set of theoretical frameworks for social marketing. Attention is devoted to social change theories and community approaches, social technologies, the use of social marketing for dissemination and scaling up of evidence-based programs, and social innovation.

  • Manoff, R. K. 1985. Social marketing: New imperatives for public health. New York: Praeger.

    Developing messages and using mass media approaches are the foundation of this approach. Includes case studies demonstrating the principles and outcomes of social marketing programs. The author also examines the economic, environmental, political, and social barriers to implementing social marketing programs and how to address them.

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