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Social marketing's mythunderstandings

Rob Donovan (Faculty of Health Sciences and School of Marketing, Curtin University, Perth, Australia)

Journal of Social Marketing

ISSN: 2042-6763

Article publication date: 15 February 2011




Unlike other sub‐areas of marketing, such as sports marketing, business‐to‐business marketing or even religious marketing, social marketing attracts a very diverse group of disciples, many of whom have little or no background in the discipline of commercial marketing. At the same time, many with a commercial marketing background have a limited understanding of the social and environmental determinants of health and well‐being and tend to be focused on consumer marketing techniques for a situation where there is wide distribution of product and service offerings and where most target audiences have enough money to make a purchase. These circumstances have resulted in a number of myths and misunderstandings being expressed by “social marketers” which could negatively impact on the practice of social marketing and hence the effectiveness of campaigns described as such. The aim of this paper is to describe and dispel eight “mythunderstandings” commonly expressed by social marketing practitioners and others.


The paper presents Ad hoc observations on issues that arise from time to time on the social marketing listserv (‐listproc‐ and at social marketing conferences.


It is suggested that those wishing to operate in the domain of social marketing could benefit from a look at the history of marketing and some of the basic textbooks to help dispel some of these myths.


Eight commonly expressed mythunderstandings are listed, including definitional issues, the roles of education, law and advocacy in social marketing and whether the sought behaviour change must be voluntary. While others have looked at outsiders' misunderstandings of social marketing, this paper looks at the mythunderstandings of social marketers themselves.



Donovan, R. (2011), "Social marketing's mythunderstandings", Journal of Social Marketing, Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 8-16.



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