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Why nudging is not enough

Jeff French (Conford, UK)

Journal of Social Marketing

ISSN: 2042-6763

Article publication date: 12 July 2011




The purpose of this paper is to review the possible contribution of “nudging” as a tactic and “form” of exchange and suggest two new frameworks to aid in the description of four “forms” of exchange and “types” of intervention that can be used in social marketing.


Discursive review of the contemporary impact of liberal paternalistic thinking on policy and operational delivery of social change programmes. The paper also considers the tensions within social marketing regarding voluntary and involuntary change including the use of incentives and disincentives in social change programmes and presents a model that seeks to describe the range of options available.


It is concluded that in addition to restricted, generalised and complex exchanges, as defined by Bagozzi there are basically four basic “forms” of exchange that can be used by governments and public institutions who apply a marketing approach to brining about positive social change. These “forms” of exchange includes “nudging” but also other legitimate “forms” of exchange that can be called “shoving”, “ hugging” and “smacking”. It is further suggested that together with these four “forms” of exchange there are five basic “types” of intervention that can be used to bring about change, these two elements can all be brought together in a proposed intervention matrix. The paper makes the case that a key advantage of adopting a marketing mind‐set (i.e. one that is driven by consumer‐centric thinking and based on the creation of value) in the selection of “forms” of exchange and “types” of intervention is that the selected mix will be much more likely to bring about the socially desired change because it is informed by the preferences and consent of the majority of citizens.

Research limitations/implications

This paper does not explicitly address the nature of social marketing. A position is taken that social marketing is what Gallie has defined as an “essentially contested concept ” and what Peters would term a “field of study”. This means that social marketing will by its nature just like many other fields of endeavour be subject to continuous debate and development. Consequently, in adopting this position, the paper tacitly accepts a broad and inclusive definition of social marketing. The proposed exchange matrix and intervention matrix, together with the deCIDES framework outlined in the paper need to be tested to discover if these models have utility in being able to accommodate existing social marketing practice and inform the selection of future social marketing programmes.

Social implications

If the models set out in this paper prove to have descriptive utility, they may prove to be a useful additional conceptual and practical planning tool for those involved in applying marketing interventions directed at social issues at the policy, strategy, tactical and operational levels of practice.


This paper sets out three conceptual models, two of which have not been published before. The models and the accompanying commentary will add to the debate about the scope of what legitimately constitutes the “operational territory” of social marketing both in terms of up‐ and down‐stream activity and interventions that span both voluntary and involuntary change.



French, J. (2011), "Why nudging is not enough", Journal of Social Marketing, Vol. 1 No. 2, pp. 154-162.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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