Analysis And Comment

How social marketing works in health care

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.332.7551.1207-a (Published 18 May 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:1207

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. W Douglas Evans (devans@rti.org), vice president1
  1. 1 Health Promotion Research, RTI International, WA 20036, USA.
  • Accepted 20 February 2006

Social marketing applies commercial marketing strategies to promote public health. Social marketing is effective on a population level, and healthcare providers can contribute to its effectiveness.

What is social marketing?

In the preface to Marketing Social Change, Andreasen defines social marketing as “the application of proven concepts and techniques drawn from the commercial sector to promote changes in diverse socially important behaviors such as drug use, smoking, sexual behavior… This marketing approach has an immense potential to affect major social problems if we can only learn how to harness its power.”1 By “proven techniques” Andreasen meant methods drawn from behavioural theory, persuasion psychology, and marketing science with regard to health behaviour, human reactions to messages and message delivery, and the “marketing mix” or “four Ps” of marketing (place, price, product, and promotion).2 These methods include using behavioural theory to influence behaviour that affects health; assessing factors that underlie the receptivity of audiences to messages, such as the credibility and likeability of the argument; and strategic marketing of messages that aim to change the behaviour of target audiences using the four Ps.3

How is social marketing applied to health?

Social marketing is widely used to influence health behaviour. Social marketers use a wide range of health communication strategies based on mass media; they also use mediated (for example, through a healthcare provider), interpersonal, and other modes of communication; and marketing methods such as message placement (for example, in clinics), promotion, dissemination, and community level outreach. Social marketing encompasses all of these strategies.

Fig 1

Social marketing wheel

Communication channels for health information have changed greatly in recent years. One-way dissemination of information has given way to a multimodal transactional model of communication. Social marketers face challenges such as increased numbers and types of health issues competing for the public's attention; limitations on people's time; and increased numbers and types of …

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