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Social Marketing in the Age of Direct Benefit and Upstream Marketing.

Dr Stephen Dann, School of Management, Marketing & International Business,
ANU College of Business & Economics, The Australian National University

Social marketing is predicated on the ideals of commercial marketing, with the needs of the
market being paramount in the creation of a message, idea or product that will lead to social
change for the greater good. As an adaptation of commercial marketing, social marketing
acquired the understanding of commercial exchange and the freedoms to accept and reject the
offers in an open market. With the 2004 revision of the definition of commercial marketing,
social marketing also acquired the need to create, communicate and deliver value to the
consumer that directly benefited the organisation. Whilst direct benefit was historically the
anthema to social marketing, social change outcomes can be seen as directly benefiting the
organisation who promoted the original ideal.

To complicate matters, at the same time social marketing has needed to become more
outcomes focused, the rise in upstream marketing has created a situation where marketing can
be used to restrict the available choices in the social marketing marketplace. Yet at the same
time direct benefit to the campaign is a necessary prerequisite for marketing, and the
temptation to modify the market to limit competition to increase direct benefit, social
marketing cannot afford to lose sight of the fundamental need to remain a force for voluntary
behaviour. This paper overviews the conflicting dynamics of the changes required for
marketing under the AMA (2004) commercial marketing definition, and the possible clash
between upstream marketing, social marketing, and the revised marketing definition.

Social Marketing: One Social Change Technique, not The Social Change Technique.
Social marketing is one of a range of methods for changing the attitudes, beliefs and
behaviours of the broader public, or a smaller societal group. As a social change technique, it
sits alongside the process of education, legal reform and structural change as a mechanism for
the adjustment of society. Increasing pressures on outcomes based measures have seen many
marketers consider reaching into other aspects of the social change toolkit to enhance the
success of voluntary change through upstream marketing to alter the market conditions
(voluntary change through involuntary removal of choice) or implement legislative
enforcement (voluntary change through compliance with law). As effective as these
mechanisms may be for achieving social change outcomes, they are not marketing techniques.
In fact, the alteration of a market to remove competitor messages is usually regulated against
by government as anti-competitive and anti-monopoly – in the commercial sense, the
upstream sentiment is to actively encourage choice.

In commercial marketing as well, governments will intervene to break monopolies, or enforce
regulations to ensure competition or the pretence of market choice. In behavioural change,
and social marketing recently, choice seems to become an anathema. Change campaigns for
backed by health policies include legislative restriction of marketing of smoking (Graham and
Dann, 1997), promotion of contrary messages to established social change campaigns (Dann
and Dann, 2002), and restrictions on distribution of legal products to youth markets (video
games, junk food and carbonated beverages). This may be social change, but it is not social
marketing. Social marketing has a parentage in commercial marketing and is the adaptation of
commercial marketing techniques, which means it must remain committed to freedom of
choice, competition of messages, and non-monopolistic practices (Andreasen 1995,
Andreasen 2006). At least in theory, if increasingly less so in practice, social marketing must
respect the right of the consumer to banal, contrary or down right stupid, and preserve the
ability of the individual to enter or leave the social change transaction as they see fit
(Andreasen 1995, Kotler and Roberto, 1985)

Defining the parameters of Social Marketing
Social marketing, as the name implies, is grounded in commercial marketing theory and
practice. However, given that the application of social marketing is predominantly in non
commercial sectors, social marketing practice draws on a range of related disciplines
including sociology, psychology and other social welfare related activities. Social marketing
has had a range of definitions over the past thirty years, from the foundation definition in
1971, where social marketing was defined as “the design, implementation, and control of
programs calculated to influence the acceptability of product planning, pricing,
communication, distribution and marketing research. (Kotler and Zaltman, 1971)” through to
the definition used most widely and consistently which defines social marketing as "the
application of commercial marketing technologies to the analysis, planning, execution, and
evaluation of programs designed to influence the voluntary behaviour of target audiences in
order to improve their personal welfare and that of their society." (Andreasen, 1995).

Kotler, Roberto and Lee (2002) contributed to the contemporary social marketing debate by
offering the following definition of social marketing as “the use of marketing principles and
techniques to influence a target audience to voluntarily accept, reject, modify, or abandon a
behaviour for the benefit of individuals, groups or society as a whole.” The consistent
elements of the definition of social marketing have been the use of commercial marketing
principles and techniques, voluntary action by the target of the social change, and the accrual
of benefit to the individual, and the broader society. Within the context of the Kotler and
Andreasen’s definitions, commercial marketing was defined as the process of planning and
executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to
create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational objectives’ (AMA, 1985, p. 2).
Consequently, the marketing tools and techniques adapted for use in social change programs
were based on the 1985 conceptual model of marketing, with its emphasis on the creation of
exchange of goods, services and ideas (where exchange can be direct or indirect) through the
application of the marketing mix.

Social Marketing 2006: Now with Direct Benefit and Stakeholders
In 2004, the nature of commercial marketing was radically altered by the American Marketing
Association (AMA) releasing a revision of the formal definition of marketing. The AMA,
with the tacit or otherwise endorsement of the global marketing community, relaunched the
marketing definition as “an organizational function and a set of processes for creating,
communicating and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in
ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders.” (AMA 2004). With the significant
repurposing of the definition of marketing, does commercial marketing remain compatible
with social marketing, and vice versa?

Benefiting the Organisation and the Stakeholder
On the whole, social marketing fared reasonably poorly when commercial marketing
realigned itself as a business discipline focused on organisational and stakeholder benefit.
The introduction of direct benefit to the organisation as a core tenet of the marketing concept
is the antithesis of the social marketing principle of indirect benefit. The previously
immutable boundary between societal marketing (social causes for commercial gain) and
social marketing (social causes for societal benefit) has been blurred, if not erased entirely.
Whilst problematic, this may not prove to be an insurmountable challenge for social

The new definition broadens the role of the marketing orientation beyond the dynamic
between client/customer and the organisation. The expansion of the concept to include
stakeholder benefit as an explicit role of marketing impacts on the type and nature of the
strategies that can be considered to be marketing strategy. A core imperative to arise from
the new marketing definition is the need to define the organisation' s stakeholders. Freeman
(1984) defines stakeholders as "any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the
achievement of the firm’s objectives". This is a noticeable departure from the narrow view of
stakeholders as shareholders, stockholders or owners of the organisation (Clement, 2005).

Stakeholders can be further split into primary stakeholders, who are directly involved in the
ongoing survival of the organisation (e.g. employees, customers and suppliers etc.); and
secondary stakeholders, who are influential, but not essential for the survival of the
organisation (e.g. activists, communities and governments). The definition of "stakeholders"
is now a critical element in determining what marketing can do to create benefit for the
organisation and the stakeholders. From a social marketing perspective, incorporating
stakeholders has been a central tenet of indirect benefit exchange, and as such, represents the
inclusion of aspects of social marketing’s involvement in promoting marketing exchanges that
lead to benefits accruing to the individual and broader society. Both social marketing
(individual and society) and relationship marketing (individual and partners) have contributed
to the inclusion of the stakeholders.

Compatibility and Incompatibility of Direct Benefit
Frequently, social marketing is the inversion of commercial marketing – profit, direct benefit
and shareholder benefit leads to long term sustainability of the business. Social marketing
instead seeks to solve a problem, present a cure for a disease, a reduction in the incidence of
an event, or the ultimate cessation of the social campaign once it has “solved” the social
problem. Few commercial marketers would regard a market need as “a problem to be solved”
ahead of being an ongoing opportunity to serve for gain.

Commercial marketing and social marketing have often been the most uncomfortable of
travelling companions. The dichotomy between the direct benefit “profit” orientation of
commercial marketing, and the indirect benefit “social benefit” orientation of marketing has
always strained the relationship between the parent and child discipline. Consequently, social
marketing has always been based on the simultaneous adoption of marketing philosophy and
the adaptation of marketing tools. This is done in order to develop programs which, whilst
the programs are targeted at specific market segments, will lead to socially beneficial
outcomes for the broader community in the eyes of the social marketer – potentially then, if
society exhibits a willingness to change, then the organisation proposing the change can take
a direct benefit from the groundswell of support for the idea.

Change by any means possible is not Direct Benefit
Perhaps the greatest challenge to the social marketing community will arise from the adoption
of direct benefit as a core outcome of social change campaigns that use social marketing
techniques. If direct benefit is narrowly construed as the adoption of the change campaign’s
social message or behaviour, then social marketing may be tempted away from the core
disciplinary message of voluntary change, towards an outcomes driven approach of “change
at any cost”. Increasingly, as the consumer becomes more resistant to the marketing
messages of commercial and social marketers, interest is growing in the upstream marketing
approach. Goldberg (1995) defined upstream marketing as manipulating the environmental
variables, market conditions and market needs by targeting the level above the consumer,
rather than consumer directly. In commercial marketing, upstream is usually seen as the
process of expanding the market, thus improving the size of the market even if the individual
percentage shares stay the same.

However, the fundamental nature of upstream marketing is the manipulation of the
environmental variables for the benefit of the marketer. As a commercial marketing
technique, it can, and has, been adapted and adopted by social marketers to achieve social
marketing outcomes. Unsurprisingly, upstream social marketing has tended towards the
inverse of commercial marketing by focusing effort on altering the environment to benefit the
delivery of the social marketing message, behaviour or idea product by reducing, rather than
expanding the competition. For example, whilst a commercial marketer will use upstream to
increase the number of distribution channels for their product, many social marketers are
using upstream techniques to decrease the number of channels open to rival products. For
example, a number of upstream social marketing campaigns regarding childhood obesity has
focused on decreasing the range of high fat foods that can be made available to children, or
decreasing the volume of advertising of these products. In contrast, safe sex social marketers
have historically used upstream marketing to broaden the distribution base of condoms and
safe sex information. As a technique, upstream social marketing is as inherently neutral as
pricing, promotional or market research. With the neutrality of the tool in mind, the priority
must be placed on grounding the use of upstream marketing within the context of the social
marketing discipline.

Upstream Social Marketing: Broaden, not narrowing for direct benefit
As a pragmatic tool for social change, upstream marketing which results in legislative
controls over rival social messages is a tempting form of social change. However, with
voluntary adoption of the product at the very core of commercial and social marketing, the
marketer cannot alter conditions to the point that “voluntary” becomes a question of
compliance via lack of alternative options. This is the point of departure between social
marketing, and social change through alternative methods such as social propaganda. Social
propaganda is based on the notion of the promoter of the message being “convinced of the
essential righteousness of the message” (O’Shaughnessy, 1996). The notion of “inherent
righteousness” overrules any marketing led decisions to modify the social message to meet
the need of the market. In fact, it emphasizes the modification of the market to fall into line
with the needs of the message – changes to the market are appropriate and desirable since the
message is inherent correct, appropriate and “what’s best” for the target audience. In
essence, social propaganda would seek to modify the conditions of the market to reduce the
competition between the “true” message and the distorting voices of competitive ideas.

It’s not voluntary change if you have no choice
Upstream social marketers walk a fine line between social marketing (adjusting the message
to the needs of the market) and social propaganda (adjusting the market to the message). At
the core of a variety of social marketing definitions is the role of the discipline as a persuasive
force (Holdford, 2005) driven from understanding the consumer (Redmond and Griffith,
2005). The social marketing process requires the market to either be aware of, or informed of
a problem and to recognise the social product as good solution to that specific problem
(Weinreich 1999 in Griffin, Hall and Watson, 2005). Putting the needs of the consumer into
the development of the social product and solution has been the defining hallmark of the
social marketing as a change agent (Redmond and Griffith, 2005). Consequently, upstream
social marketing needs to be constrained by the needs of the consumer, and by the parameters
of both commercial and social marketing. Commercial marketing, with a requirement of
benefit for the organisation and stakeholder, limits what upstream marketing can be used to
achieve. Using upstream to create benefit for the organisation has a proactive bias towards
increasing opportunity, broadening distribution channels and increasing the way in which the
consumer can interact with the social marketing message. In addition, social marketing needs
to use upstream marketing with care to ensure that the fundamental principle of voluntary
adoption for the benefit of the individual and society is retained.

Modification to the structure and nature of the social change marketplace that enhance the
connection between the social marketing product (idea, behaviour) and the individual and
societal reward would constitute a valuable use of the upstream approach. There is also
considerable potential for inappropriate upstream social marketing to act in a manner contrary
to both the social and commercial marketing parameters. Limiting the voice of the rival
messages “for the greater good” may conflict with the fundamental principle of direct benefit.
Does silencing a critic, or a contrary message, create a direct benefit for the organisational and
its stakeholders? Possibly, although a brief analysis of stakeholder theory would suggest that
the stakeholders groups of competitors and media may not see the benefit in restrictions on
the communication of rival messages. In addition, questions need to be asked regarding the
value that is created, communicated or delivered to the customer through the reduction in
their freedom to accept or reject a social marketing message.

Upstream Social Marketing versus Smoking in Public: A Mini Case
One of the most visible applications of upstream marketing has been the push to limit the
available spaces where a smoker may legally consume legal tobacco products. If the aim of
the social marketing campaign is the voluntary cessation of smoking, does the removal of the
ability to smoke in public places create value for the smoker? Does it in fact, destroy an
existing level of value the target consumer (the smoker) currently enjoy? Further, upstream
marketing that limits the behaviour of the smoker serves only to reduce the utility of the
current (smoking) behaviour. It does not create, communicate or deliver value for the
smoker, and as such, is it even a marketing behaviour? Certainly, the social marketing
product of non-smoking which is targeted at the non-smoker will receive benefit from the
upstream marketing - there is a clear creation, communication and delivery of value to the
target customer, and this will manage the ongoing relationship between the non-smoker and
the non-smoking campaign.

However, if the upstream social marketing campaign was targeted at the smoker – does the
removal of freedom constitute the creation of value? Even if it does, the removal of the choice
means that the smoker cannot voluntarily adopt the non-smoking behaviour, thus effectively
ceasing any pretence that they are adopting a social marketing product. In essence, even the
non smoker is prohibited from engaging in a voluntary adoption of the social marketing
campaign – without the freedom to reject the behaviour, they have no freedom to adopt the
product either.

Unfortunately for social marketing, the core principles of the discipline require it to forgo the
expediency of mandatory social change in favour of the higher risk, higher reward strategy of
voluntary compliance. Inherent in the social marketing approach is the consumer orientated
creation of a social product that creates, communicates and delivers superior value to the
market – and which forces the marketer to address the needs of the market and maintain the
relationship in order to receive the direct and indirect benefit of compliance with the social
marketing message. Whilst social upstream marketing can be used to facilitate the creation,
communication and delivery of value, and to strength and reinforce the relationship,
ultimately, the marketer must give the freedom to accept or reject to the consumer. If the
customer has no freedom to reject the offer, then marketing does not take place, and social
marketing simply ceases to exist where legislation or coercion takes precedence over
voluntary choice.
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