CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts — Since societal problems are integrals of a variety of factors, many different approaches are needed to generate solutions. Think about oral rehydration therapy, a treatment for diarrhea and dehydration. Not only does ORT need to be supplied to people in dire need, but people also need to be aware that ORT exists and know how to use it. This is where marketing and communication comes in.
Applying marketing concepts, like market research, product development, advertising and promotion to problems affecting the society at large broadens the scope of this field. Social marketing encompasses the attempt to sell ideas, attitudes and behaviors to populations in a similar manner as one would market any product.
Advertisements featuring various products are commonplace on television. The same approach was used for ORT. In India, brief spots on television featuring popular actors and actresses were used to impart simple messages about the benefits of using ORT. This effort was found to very effective in increasing the knowledge of mothers about ORT and its usage.
FHI360, a nonprofit human development organization, is working with MTV Networks and MTV’s Staying Alive Foundation to reach out to the youth about HIV awareness and prevention information in the form of a television drama featuring young adults and a peer education program. In Namibia, the organization is partnering with local groups to provide training in using radio and television to inform sexually active youth about the risks of multiple sexual partners.
DKT International is a social marketing nonprofit working to improve access to reproductive health products and services. DKT International uses country-specific marketing approaches. In northern India, the nonprofit uses wall paintings, tin plates and street theater to educate people in low-literate village settings about family planning.
In DKT’s view, social marketing is advantageous because it is fast. Since it uses already existing frameworks for outreach and delivery, it can be scaled up quickly. Social marketing can also be viewed as non-patronizing since it is perceived like any other advertisement for a commercial product and not a development program.
Although many may not think of these as falling under marketing, there are other concerns with product development that can affect whether or not people use the development measure. ORT for instance has to be flavoured with sweeteners so that children are not turned off by the taste. Especially for preventive measures, this aspect becomes important. Nutrient-fortified cereals, for instance, have to have a similar taste to the original product so people can incorporate it into their diets with ease.
An advertisement warning about the dangers of bird flu has to take into account how much local people interact with poultry for that advertisement to cover specific warnings. This is where the marketing concept of understanding the audience and audience segmentation comes in. For instance, different subgroups of a population might have different perceptions about how HIV/AIDS is spread or how prevalent the threat is. Knowing what is lacking is important in efficient targeted delivery of infomercials, pamphlets or counselling.
With the advent of social media, marketing and communications is gaining an ever increasing foothold in the attention span of populations all over the world. The reach of education and awareness programs, of public health and other development measures may be appreciably improved by utilizing social marketing appropriately.
– Mithila Rajagopal