Differences between the worlds of social marketing and commercial marketing

Thesis: Significant differences between the worlds of social marketing and commercial marketing mean that the transfer of commercial marketing concepts into the social marketing arena poses a number of problems to the social marketing program

Introduction:

Andreasen 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 society”. However, significant differences between the worlds of social marketing and commercial marketing mean that the transfer of commercial marketing concepts into the social marketing arena pose a number of problems to the social marketing program (Andreasen, 2000; Bloom and Novelli, 1981).  The rest of this essay will explore the inherent differences between these two marketing applications and expose why it is difficult to adopt the commercial marketing framework and methodology to social marketing endeavours.  BUPA Health Services is the chosen company, whose case history will be perused for presenting concrete evidence in support of the above mentioned thesis.

In a general sense, Social Marketing is a novel way of conceiving and implementing a very old human endeavour.  From time immemorial, “there have been social systems, there have been attempts to inform, persuade, influence, motivate, to gain acceptance for new adherents to certain sets of ideas, to promote causes and to win over particular groups, to reinforce behaviour or to change it — whether by favour, argument or force” (Gulas, 2000). Social Marketing has its origins in religion, politics, academics, and also in military strategy. It also has intellectual roots in “disciplines such as psychology, sociology, political science, communication theory and anthropology” (Gulas, 2000).  Its practical development is related to such disciplines as “advertising, public relations and market research, as well as to the work and experience of social activists, advocacy groups and community organizers” (Gulas, 2000).

Commercial marketing, on the other hand is defined as the understanding, targeting and advertisement of products and services to consumers, with the expectation of making profits out of the enterprise.  This profit motive is what essentially separates the two concepts and in most cases makes them conceptually incompatible.  Social Marketing is an integrated part of health promotion strategies across agencies and government departments in the United Kingdom Healthcare Sector. It is employed to deliver health promotion and disease awareness messages to specific target groups in the British demography and is “designed to help individuals make decisions related to maintaining and improving their health and well-being and that of their families and communities” (Lefebvre, 2001).

Customer Profiling and Commercial Marketing:

BUPA, alongside other major healthcare sector players like Allianz Cornhill, Scottish Life and First Active has forwarded plans to form a database repository and customer relationship marketing group called Sword. Although this venture is quite new and its results are yet to be discerned, the commercial nature of the group has made is in-conducive for propagating healthcare messages from government agencies.  So far as one can discern from the group’s website, its aim has been to “use customer profiling to better target products to customer segments”, which says nothing about influencing the voluntary behaviour of target audiences in order to improve their personal welfare and that of society (Lefebvre, 2005).

In mid 2002, Bupa employed WCRS to start an expensive multimedia campaign that aimed to improve “the consumers’ understanding of the private health brand and its offering”. (Fergenson, 1989) The campaign, which is still running, continues Bupa’s traditional practice of using its staff to participate in its commercials in an attempt to highlight the personal expertise, earnestness and dedication of those working for the company. Focusing on specific healthcare problems, the campaign runs across all kinds of media TV, press, radio and internet.  While this campaign is hailed as a successful marketing effort by the business press, it has little to offer social marketers.  For example, according to one marketing expert, the million of pounds pumped into the campaign could have only been possible by a business corporation, which is generally cash rich.  All government health agencies operate on tight budgets and cannot undertake such marketing campaigns as that of BUPA’s.  Hence, what we see is a lack of adaptability of any commercial model of operation to social marketing (Fergenson, 1989).

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