Global Health Ideas

Finding global health solutions through innovation and technology

Global Health Council 1: Social Marketing

On Tuesday of the conference, I attended the Social Marketing to Facilitate Behavior Change and Action workshop.  I personally found it to be very educational, although I did have one gripe (see #3 below).  A few thoughts I had during the workshop:

(1) Creating new products and the lead user. In describing the role of social marketing, the facilitators considered the question “how do we make the choice easier [for adopting healthier behaviors]?”.  Their answer was “creating new products” and the example they gave was the LifeStraw.  A woman from Vestergaard-Frandsen, the company that makes LifeStraw, was in the audience and shared the story of the conceptual development of the product – it seems this was a case of a lead user.  One of the fieldworkers who worked on a national Guinea worm eradication campaign created her/his own life straw with reed and some mesh for local use.

(2) Social marketing and social design ethnography. The reason I went to this workshop was to establish a better understanding of how my work relates to social marketing.  My work uses applied ethnography for the purposes of design in global health, not just products, but also services and systems.  While there is considerable overlap, the idea of creating new products felt like an awkward fit within the framework of social marketing.  I expect it was there because it has no other home (e.g. social product design).  The danger in placing it in the context of social marketing is that it may ignore the considerable knowledge we have developed and are developing in the field of human-centered design.  There is also a difference in the methods.  Ethnographic research seems play a minor role in social marketing, and as in many fields, the label ethnographic seems to be used fairly loosely.

(3) Know your audience.  The majority of examples (not all) in the workshop were drawn from the US context (e.g. commercial advertisements, surveys, anecdotes), and further weren’t well-contextualized.  Not what I expected at a global health conference, with a very international group, where the focus of the workshop was “know your audience”.

(4) Adapt, don’t adopt. One of global health’s strengths is that it borrows from so many diverse fields.  The dangers with this are in simply adopting the idea rather than adapting it to the contexts of global health. In the case of social marketing the ideas that have been borrowed are framework (effect behavior change), process (how to understand your consumer), and theory (behavior change models).  The typical dangers of doing this are: (a) what is borrowed can be viewed as gospel (e.g. if Madison Ave. does it this way, it must be right) or (b) the ideas don’t progress as they do in the original field (e.g. is social marketing making use of advances in commercial marketing?  is it evolving on its own?).  I still don’t know enough about social marketing to argue this, but I’ve seen this pattern with other ideas that have been borrowed across fields.

(5) “We’ve already been doing this”. One of the audience members brought up the fact that people have been doing this for a long time in many places and that it simply hasn’t had the “social marketing” label.  Agreed, but in my opinion – and that of the facilitators – the value is in the framework.  By creating a formal way of thinking, we can improve the social marketing work that people have been doing by other names, and bring it to people who haven’t been thinking in these terms.

Ben was there for part of the workshop and may have more thoughts.

Update from Aman – here are some other great resources in the area of social marketing:


Written by Jaspal

May 28, 2008 at 8:35 am

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