Social Marketing to Reduce the Spread of Covid-19

By Anouk Geene

What is Social Marketing?

Social marketing is all about using marketing theories and techniques to promote voluntary social behavioural change for the betterment of society. Professor and social marketing exporter Alan Andreasen defines it this way:

‘Social marketing is the application of commercial marketing technologies to the analysis, planning, execution and evaluation of programs designed to influence the voluntary behaviour of target audiences in order to improve their personal welfare and that of society.’

In the past, social marketing has been used, often successfully, to boost at-home recycling, to encourage safe sex and the use of seat belts and to discourage smoking or drunk-driving.

Social marketing works by effectively mixing the 4P strategies of marketing to promote behavioural change:

Product – the essential physical products, services or practices needed to fulfill the goal of the campaign

Price – the cost and barriers than inhibit people from adopting said goal

Place – the channels and physical spaces where the desired change is supported and encouraged

Promotion – the means by which the desired change is promoted to people

Social Marketing applied to Covid-19 prevention

Over the past year, it has become clear to us all that collective behavioural change is needed to stop the spread of Covid-19. We have been told repeatedly by Public Health Institutions that behaviours like practicing social distancing, staying at home, coughing and sneezing into elbows, washing hands thoroughly and frequently, wearing face masks and more can help do so.

Across the globe, governments and agencies have been using social marketing strategies (knowingly or not) to ingrain these preventative behaviours as quickly and smoothly as possible. Given they come at a very steep price (expensive protective equipment or the pain of self-isolation), this has not been an easy task! Moreover, each country seemingly chooses to fight the pandemic in its own way over one unified, global awareness campaign.

Let’s look at how the 4Ps can be identified and applied to the case of Covid-19.

Product – These include physical products like masks and hand sanitisers, testing and track and trace services and personal practices of social distancing and self-isolation

Price – In order to the products to be used, they must be cheaply available and not come at too great a personal/professional cost.

Place – Delivery of essential goods and services must be widely available if people are to adopt the practice of staying home. Not everything can be delivered to everyone however, so strategies like reducing the number of people in stores, widening side-walks or implementing special hours for senior and vulnerable populations are useful strategies.

Promotion – This includes effective use of social media, engaging and visible promotional content and leveraging the power of technology. It also includes educational information on the impact staying home has on reducing the spread, backed up by science and daily case and death reports. Very importantly, given the toll this pandemic has taken on our mental health, a message of unity and support needs to be communicated, loud and clear.

In hindsight, some countries have made better use of social marketing theory and strategies than others. Going forward, there is still a lot of room for improvement. For instance, mobile technology could be better used to reach people for tracing, notifications, information etc, all in one place. Of course, sufficient trust in the technology and its users is needed to successfully roll it out, which is a topic of conversation for another day!

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