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Some reasonable but uncomfortable questions about social marketing

Fiona Spotswood (Bristol Social Marketing Centre, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK)
Jeff French (Strategic Social Marketing, London, UK)
Alan Tapp (Bristol Social Marketing Centre, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK)
Martine Stead (Institute for Social Marketing, University of Stirling and The Open University, Stirling, UK)

Journal of Social Marketing

ISSN: 2042-6763

Article publication date: 5 October 2012




The purpose of this paper is to explore the scope of social marketing by re-examining some of its core concepts: the balance between the “wants” of individuals with the “needs” of society; the nature of exchange; the inclusion of techniques not explicitly considered part of the panoply of marketing; techniques available to social marketing, such as “nudge” style techniques, regulation or behavioural conditioning; the view that behaviour change must be its definitive goal; the ethical and political dimensions of social marketing; and the definition of social marketing.


The authors pose seven questions based on these concepts which they debate.


The authors conclude that a more inclusive view of what constitutes social marketing is required: one that avoids absolutism or defining the field in terms of the tactics it employs. The paper calls for a set of ethical codes which would enable social marketers to better defend approaches that deploy more implicit and strongly persuasive techniques common in the commercial world but unacknowledged in social marketing.


The paper questions some of the settled views of the field, such as the focus on “behaviour change” and the notion of “exchange” and “voluntary” behaviour change. The paper debates the ethical implications of using “invisible” or coercive techniques, and the nature of customer-centricity. The paper also debates the politics of social marketing and encourages debate about interventions which go beyond rational exchange.



Spotswood, F., French, J., Tapp, A. and Stead, M. (2012), "Some reasonable but uncomfortable questions about social marketing", Journal of Social Marketing, Vol. 2 No. 3, pp. 163-175.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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