Social marketing: its place in public health

Annu Rev Public Health. 1992;13:341-62. doi: 10.1146/annurev.pu.13.050192.002013.


PIP: This review of the public health role of social marketing begins by tracing the history of social marketing and noting that social marketing adopts the traditional marketing framework of product, price, place, and promotion and embraces several methods of commercial marketing as well as consumer research. However, no universally acknowledged definition exists. A review of the literature is divided into three time periods representing early theoretical development, the evaluation of experiences, and increasing acceptance. Concerns about social marketing are discussed in terms of ethics, disempowerment, and the commercialization of health information. Examples of social marketing are then provided from developing countries and are analyzed in groupings defined as tangible products, sustained health practices, and service utilization. Practitioners' views and concerns are also reviewed. The strengths of social marketing include knowledge of the audience, systematic use of qualitative methods, use of incentives, closer monitoring, strategic use of the mass media, realistic expectations, aspiring to high standards, and recognition of price. Weaknesses of social marketing include its time, money, and human requirements; the fact that marketing elements are missing (public health lacks the flexibility to adjust products and services to clients' interests and preferences); and the potential serious impact on the future of Public Service Announcements, which may die out because social marketers pay for air time. After placing social marketing in context with other practices designed to achieve social change, the review ends with the prediction that the public health role of social marketing is likely to increase. The World Health Organization's recent call for health promotion and the UN Children's Fund's social mobilization actions are provided as examples of this increased role. It is noted, however, that social marketing alone cannot solve public health problems.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Developing Countries
  • Diffusion of Innovation
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Education / standards
  • Health Education / trends
  • Health Promotion / standards
  • Health Promotion / trends
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Marketing of Health Services* / methods
  • Marketing of Health Services* / organization & administration
  • Mass Media
  • Patient Care Team
  • Power, Psychological
  • Public Health Administration / trends*
  • Social Change*