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Social marketing is an approach to policy development and a process for social and behavior change that is growing rapidly. The first two decades of the twenty-first century have seen social programs across the globe expanding and reaching into virtually every aspect of social development including health, environment, energy use, and population management.1 In particular, social marketing has become a staple of public health programs, with major health policy-making organizations worldwide routinely applying it as a core strategy.

Why has this growth occurred and why has social marketing increasingly come to be applied worldwide? The answer lies in the ability of social marketing to harness technology, increase access to information, and improve social programs that focus on psychological, economic, social, and environmental determinants of societal change. In addition, social marketing is driven by the use of data analytics, evidence, and research to guide the development of social marketing activities.2

This chapter explores current trends in social marketing, how new theory and methods are leading to an evolution of research and practice, and briefly examines case studies of social marketing in action. How we encounter social marketing programs (and how often), how we engage with them, and how we experience them in relation to competing behavioral alternatives are explored. The chapter also considers other factors, products, and services that are in competition with social marketing objectives, and why it is critically important to understand and tackle these competitive forces.3 These factors help to explain why people choose and remain loyal to social marketing programs and the brands that represent them, and why they may sometimes decide not to act in ways that public health practitioners would like them to.

The goal of this chapter is to provide a broad overview of social marketing, with particular emphasis on its application in public health. First, we look at theory and strategy in social marketing; research and evaluation methods and growth of the evidence base; corporate social responsibility; and the role of information technology, social media, and mobile phones. Second, we examine the central role of branding as a strategy to change behavior and reframe public perceptions and social norms about behavior. Third, we explore the role of research in developing social marketing efforts and evaluation in assessing intervention effectiveness and efficiency and building the evidence base. Finally, the chapter concludes with discussion of future directions in social marketing, especially the growth of digital health and cocreation of behavior change by citizens and social marketers.


There is a growing literature on the evidence underlying social marketing research methods specific to the field, and studies to validate theoretical assumptions and advance theory.4 These include both quantitative analytic methods and instrumentation and qualitative and special topic methods (e.g., interpersonal research). Communication research methods used in social marketing and theories that ...

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