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Critical social marketing: definition, application and domain

Ross Gordon (Open University Business School, The Institute for Social Marketing, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK)

Journal of Social Marketing

ISSN: 2042-6763

Article publication date: 12 July 2011




The purpose of this paper is to examine the nature and role of the critical dimension social marketing and its place within marketing scholarly thought. It is posited that such activity can be defined as “critical social marketing” and a formal definition is offered.


The ability of critical social marketing to inform the research and evidence base, as well as upstream and downstream activity is discussed. Scholarly debate on the role of critical social marketing within the social marketing and critical marketing paradigms, both of which heavily inform the concept, are reviewed. The application of a critical social marketing framework to the study of the impact of tobacco and food marketing is examined.


The paper demonstrates the utility of a critical social marketing framework in real‐world environments. Important considerations on who critical social marketers are and where the concept is located within marketing thought are addressed. The paper concludes by arguing that critical social marketing is a valid and established sub‐set of marketing thought within its own right, and should henceforth be regarded as such.


Offering a definition of critical social marketing formalises its position within marketing thought. Discussing the tensions surrounding the critical dimension of social marketing within the social marketing and critical marketing paradigms demonstrates the difficulty in locating concepts within existing literature. A review of the application of critical social marketing demonstrates its validity. Positing that critical social marketing should be located as a sub‐set within social marketing contributes to the marketing discipline and the organisation of marketing ideas and concepts.



Gordon, R. (2011), "Critical social marketing: definition, application and domain", Journal of Social Marketing, Vol. 1 No. 2, pp. 82-99.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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