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Social marketing seeks to develop and integrate marketing concepts with other approaches to influence behaviors that benefit individuals and communities for the greater social good. It seeks to integrate research, best practice, theory, audience and partnership insight, to inform the delivery of competition sensitive and segmented social change programs that are effective, efficient, equitable and sustainable.
Although "social marketing" is sometimes seen only as using standard commercial marketing practices to achieve non-commercial goals, this is an oversimplification. The primary aim of social marketing is "social good", while in "commercial marketing" the aim is primarily "financial". This does not mean that commercial marketers can not contribute to achievement of social good.
Increasingly, social marketing is being described as having "two parents"—a "social parent", including social science and social policy approaches, and a "marketing parent", including commercial and public sector marketing approaches.
The first documented evidence of the deliberate use of marketing to address a social issue comes from a 1963 reproductive health program led by K._T._Chandy at the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta, India. Chandy and colleagues proposed, and subsequently implemented, a national family planning program with high quality, government brand condoms distributed and sold throughout the country at low cost. The program included an integrated consumer marketing campaign run with active point of sale promotion, retailers trained to sell the product aggressively, and a new organization created with the responsibility of implementing the program. In developing countries, the use of social marketing expanded to HIV prevention, control of childhood diarrhea (through the use of oral re-hydration therapies), malaria control and treatment, point-of-use water sanitation methods and the provision of basic health services.
Health promotion campaigns began applying social marketing in practice in the 1980s. In the United States, The National High Blood Pressure Education Program  and the community heart disease prevention studies in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and at Stanford University  demonstrated the effectiveness of the approach to address population-based risk factor behavior change. Notable early developments also took place in Australia. These included the Victoria Cancer Council developing its anti-tobacco campaign "Quit" (1988) and "SunSmart" (1988), its campaign against skin cancer which had the slogan "Slip! Slop! Slap!"
Since the 1980s, the field has rapidly expanded around the world to include active living communities, disaster preparedness and response, ecosystem and species conservation, environmental issues, development of volunteer or indigenous workforce's, financial literacy, global threats of antibiotic resistance, government corruption, improving the quality of health care, injury prevention, landowner education, marine conservation and ocean sustainability, patient-centered health care, reducing health disparities, sanitation demand, sustainable consumption, transportation demand management, water treatment systems and youth gambling problems, among other social needs (See ).
On a wider front, by 2007, government in the United Kingdom announced the development of its first social marketing strategy for all aspects of health. In 2010, the US national health objectives  included increasing the number of state health departments that report using social marketing in health promotion and disease prevention programs and increasing the number of schools of public health that offer courses and workforce development activities in social marketing.
Social marketing theory and practice has been progressed in several countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK, and in the latter a number of key government policy papers have adopted a strategic social marketing approach. Publications such as "Choosing Health" in 2004, "It's our health!" in 2006 and "Health Challenge England" in 2006, represent steps to achieve a strategic and operational use of social marketing. In India, AIDS controlling programs are largely using social marketing and social workers are largely working for it. Most of the social workers are professionally trained for this task.
A variation of social marketing has emerged as a systematic way to foster more sustainable behavior. Referred to as community-based social marketing (CBSM) by Canadian environmental psychologist Doug McKenzie-Mohr, CBSM strives to change the behavior of communities to reduce their impact on the environment. Realizing that simply providing information is usually not sufficient to initiate behavior change, CBSM uses tools and findings from social psychology to discover the perceived barriers to behavior change and ways of overcoming these barriers. Among the tools and techniques used by CBSM are focus groups and surveys (to discover barriers) and commitments, prompts, social norms, social diffusion, feedback and incentives (to change behavior). The tools of CBSM have been used to foster sustainable behavior in many areas, including energy conservation, environmental regulation  and recycling.
Other social marketing can be aimed at products deemed, at least by proponents, as socially unacceptable. One of the most notable is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) which for many years has waged social marketing campaigns against the use of natural fur products. The campaigns' efficacy has been subject to dispute.
Not all social marketing campaigns are effective everywhere. For example, anti-smoking campaigns such as World No Tobacco Day while being successful (in concert with government tobacco controls) in curbing the demand for tobacco products in North America and in parts of Europe, have been less effective in other parts of the world such as China, India and Russia. (See also: Prevalence of tobacco consumption)
Social marketing uses the benefits of doing social good to secure and maintain customer engagement. In social marketing the distinguishing feature is therefore its "primary focus on social good, and it is not a secondary outcome. Not all public sector and not-for-profit marketing is social marketing.
Public sector bodies can use standard marketing approaches to improve the promotion of their relevant services and organizational aims. This can be very important but should not be confused with social marketing where the focus is on achieving specific behavioral goals with specific audiences in relation to topics relevant to social good (e.g., health, sustainability, recycling, etc.). For example, a 3-month marketing campaign to encourage people to get a H1N1 vaccine is more tactical in nature and should not be considered social marketing. A campaign that promotes and reminds people to get regular check-ups and all of their vaccinations when they're supposed to encourages a long-term behavior change that benefits society. It can therefore be considered social marketing.
As the dividing lines are rarely clear it is important not to confuse social marketing with commercial marketing. A commercial marketer selling a product may only seek to influence a buyer to make a product purchase.
Social marketers—dealing with goals such as reducing cigarette smoking or encouraging condom use—have more difficult goals: to make potentially difficult and long-term behavioral change in target populations.
It is sometimes felt that social marketing is restricted to a particular spectrum of client—the non-profit organization, the health services group, the government agency.
These often are the clients of social marketing agencies, but the goal of inducing social change is not restricted to governmental or non-profit charitable organizations; it may be argued that corporate public relations efforts such as funding for the arts are an example of social marketing.
Social marketing should not be confused with the societal marketing concept which was a forerunner of sustainable marketing in integrating issues of social responsibility into commercial marketing strategies. In contrast to that, social marketing uses commercial marketing theories, tools and techniques to social issues.
Social marketing applies a "customer oriented" approach and uses the concepts and tools used by commercial marketers in pursuit of social goals like anti-smoking campaigns or fund raising for NGOs.
Social marketers must create competitive advantage by constantly adapting to and instigating change. With climate change in mind, adaptations to market changes are likely to be more successful if actions are guided by knowledge of the forces shaping market behaviours and insights that enable the development of sustainable competitive advantages. 
In 2006, Jupitermedia announced its "Social Marketing" service, with which it aims to enable website owners to profit from social media. Despite protests from the social marketing communities over the perceived hijacking of the term, Jupiter stuck with the name. However, Jupiter's approach is more correctly (and commonly) referred to as social media optimization.
Many scholars ascribe the beginning of the field of social marketing to an article published by G.D. Wiebe in the Winter 1951-1952 edition of Public Opinion Quarterly. In it, Wiebe posed a rhetorical question: "Why can’t you sell brotherhood and rational thinking like you can sell soap?” He then went on to discuss what he saw as the challenges of attempting to sell a social good as if it were a commodity, thus identifying social marketing (though he did not label it as such) as a discipline unique from commodity marketing. Yet, Wilkie & Moore (2003)  note that the marketing discipline has been involved with questions about the intersection of marketing and society since its earliest days as a discipline.
A decade later, organizations such as the KfW Entwicklungsbank in Germany, the Canadian International Development Agency, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in The Netherlands, UK Department for International Development, US Agency for International Development, World Health Organization and the World Bank began sponsoring social marketing interventions to improve family planning and achieve other social goals in Africa, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere.
The next milestone in the evolution of social marketing was the publication of "Social Marketing: An Approach to Planned Social Change" in the Journal of Marketing by Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman. Kotler and Zaltman coined the term 'social marketing' and defined it as "the design, implementation, and control of programs calculated to influence the acceptability of social ideas and involving considerations of product planning, pricing, communication, distribution, and marketing research." They conclude that "social marketing appears to represent a bridging mechanism which links the behavior scientist's knowledge of human behavior with the socially useful implementation of what that knowledge allows."
Craig Lefebvre and June Flora introduced social marketing to the public health community in 1988, where it has been most widely used and explored. They noted that there was a need for "large scale, broad-based, behavior change focused programs" to improve public health (the community wide prevention of cardiovascular diseases in their respective projects) and outlined eight essential components of social marketing that still hold today:
Speaking of what they termed "social change campaigns", Kotler and Ned Roberto introduced the subject by writing, "A social change campaign is an organized effort conducted by one group (the change agent) which attempts to persuade others (the target adopters) to accept, modify, or abandon certain ideas, attitudes, practices or behavior." Their 1989 text was updated in 2002 by Philip Kotler, Ned Roberto and Nancy Lee. In 2005, University of Stirling was the first university to open a dedicated research institute to Social Marketing, while in 2007, Middlesex University became the first university to offer a specialized postgraduate programme in Health & Social Marketing.
In recent years there has been an important development to distinguish between "strategic social marketing" and "operational social marketing".
Much of the literature and case examples focus on operational social marketing, using it to achieve specific behavioral goals in relation to different audiences and topics. However, there has been increasing efforts to ensure social marketing goes "upstream" and is used much more strategically to inform policy formulation and strategy development. Here the focus is less on specific audience and topic work but uses strong customer understanding and insight to inform and guide effective policy and strategy development.
Social marketing is also being explored as a method for social innovation, a framework to increase the adoption of evidence-based practices among professionals and organizations, and as a core skill for public sector managers and social entrepreneurs. It is being viewed as an approach to design more effective, efficient, equitable and sustainable approaches to enhance social well-being that extends beyond individual behavior change to include creating positive shifts in social networks and social norms, businesses, markets and public policy.
Many examples exist of social marketing research, with over 120 papers compiled in a six volume set.). For example, research now shows ways to reduce the intentions of people to binge drink or engage in dangerous driving. Martin, Lee, Weeks and Kaya (2013) suggests that understanding consumer personality and how people view others is important. People were shown ads talking of the harmful effects of binge drinking. People who valued close friends as a sense of who they are were less likely to want to binge drink after seeing an ad featuring them and a close friend. People who were loners or who did not see close friends important to their sense of who they were reacted better to ads featuring an individual. A similar pattern was shown for ads showing a person driving at dangerous speeds. This suggests ads showing potential harm to citizens from binge drinking or dangerous driving are less effective than ads highlighting a person’s close friends.
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