Some reasonable but uncomfortable questions about social marketing

F. Spotswood, A. Tapp, M. Stead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose ? The purpose of this paper is to explore the scope of social marketing by re-examining some of its core concepts: the balance between the ?wants? of individuals with the ?needs? of society; the nature of exchange; the inclusion of techniques not explicitly considered part of the panoply of marketing; techniques available to social marketing, such as ?nudge? style techniques, regulation or behavioural conditioning; the view that behaviour change must be its definitive goal; the ethical and political dimensions of social marketing; and the definition of social marketing. Design/methodology/approach ? The authors pose seven questions based on these concepts which they debate. Findings ? The authors conclude that a more inclusive view of what constitutes social marketing is required: one that avoids absolutism or defining the field in terms of the tactics it employs. The paper calls for a set of ethical codes which would enable social marketers to better defend approaches that deploy more implicit and strongly persuasive techniques common in the commercial world but unacknowledged in social marketing. Originality/value ? The paper questions some of the settled views of the field, such as the focus on ?behaviour change? and the notion of ?exchange? and ?voluntary? behaviour change. The paper debates the ethical implications of using ?invisible? or coercive techniques, and the nature of customer-centricity. The paper also debates the politics of social marketing and encourages debate about interventions which go beyond rational exchange.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-175
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Social Marketing
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2012

Bibliographical note

This paper was awarded the Journal of Social Marketing's Highly Commended Paper Award for 2013


  • social marketing, ethics, social marketing definition, behaviour change, exchange, value


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