A tale of complexity

Hamilton Coimbra Carvalho (University of Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil)
José Afonso Mazzon (University of Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil)
Joaquim Rocha Santos (Universidade de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil)

Journal of Social Marketing

ISSN: 2042-6763

Publication date: 7 January 2019



The purpose of this paper is the development of a framework to address complex social problems. The paper proposes an integrative framework inspired in complexity sciences, using it to explain the demise of cigarettes in recent decades.


The paper uses the method of system dynamics to represent the complexity inherent in most social ecosystems where social marketers operate.


The framework identifies the major determinants of complex problems in social ecosystems, giving emphasis to the role performed by endogenous social structures. The paper presents the results of a simulation replicating the evolution of perceived attractiveness of cigarettes in recent decades, highlighting the role of the Surgeon General’s 1964 report in the USA as a catalyst force that accelerated the process of change.

Research limitations/implications

The limitations derive from the use of the system dynamics method, in particular the high level of aggregation of variables. Implications include the potential for increased cross-fertilization between social marketing and other disciplines concerned with social change.

Practical implications

The eight elements that compose the proposed framework can be identified or applied to any social ecosystem, helping in the identification of points with high leverage for social change.

Social implications

Proper understanding of how complex social problems arise is vital to increase the odds of success of social marketing interventions. The paper also highlights common threads in the development of problems in different social ecosystems.


The paper presents a novel framework for addressing the complexity inherent to the social ecosystems where social marketers operate.



Carvalho, H., Mazzon, J. and Santos, J. (2019), "A tale of complexity", Journal of Social Marketing, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 40-52. https://doi.org/10.1108/JSOCM-04-2018-0045

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