PSAs Do Not Always Equal Social Marketing

An excellent article from Craig Lefebvre highlights the differences between social marketing and other types of communications campaigns. Just because an organization creates a PSA about a health or social issue — or because they have a discussion at a meeting and call it a focus group — does not mean that they are doing social marketing.

He provides a set of questions (geared toward journal article reviewers but applicable to assessment of any description of a program):

  1. Do the authors understand and have an insight into their target audience?
  2. Are they focusing on behavior as their product (what are they encouraging a large number of people to adopt or sustain)?
  3. Do they influence or try to alter the relative balance of incentives and costs for either maintaining the current behavior or adopting a new one?
  4. Do they attempt to increase access and opportunities for the audience to try the new behavior and then sustain it?
  5. Are communication and other promotional techniques used to assure that they reach and engage the audience in ways that are relevant, attention-getting, tap into existing motivations and aspirations and have sufficient frequency to be remembered and acted on?

To these I would add some more questions:

  • Did the program staff follow a systematic process for creating their strategy? (vs. deciding from the beginning, “We need a TV PSA. Get me something by Thursday.”)
  • Did they actually talk to members of the target audience to find out what their wants and needs are, or did they assume that they already know what they would say?
  • Did they pretest the materials they created with members of the target audience?

Too often social marketing is misunderstood both by people who have never used it AND by people who think they are using it. Craig’s post offers a useful clarification for both groups.


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