What’s In A Name?

Apr 02

My last post about Ogilvy’s rebranding of our “social marketing practice” to Social Change generated quite a bit of buzz in the social marketing community over the past few days – particularly on the social marketing listserv (SOC-MKTG@georgetown.edu).

Knowing that this topic has been a source of much debate within the community for many years, I fully expected this. I’ve been following the discussion with much interest (and a little disappointment), and I wanted to share a few additional thoughts here.

First and foremost, our decision was not one that we took lightly. In fact, we discussed and debated it for many years because we believe so strongly in the discipline of social marketing. Ogilvy has been working in the field since the mid-1980s, when we were fortunate to help CDC be among the first government agencies to market public health with the landmark America Responds to AIDS program.

We still use and embrace the term social marketing whenever we are talking to and working with clients like CDC and many other government agencies who understand it, appreciate it and continue to ask for it by name. However, we work with a wide range of clients in the social marketing/social purpose/social change/purpose marketing/cause marketing/[your term here] arena.

Although it pained us to admit it, fewer and fewer of them use and understand the term social marketing. This is true not only among our corporate clients but among non-profits and foundations as well. “Social marketing” is simply not part of their language… it’s not even on their radar.

Is Social Change a perfect term? Of course not, it has baggage too. But in our research (yes, we tested a number of options with our government, non-profit and corporate clients before deciding on Social Change), it was the clear winner. For us, it was simply a matter of meeting our audience where they are, which is what we advise our clients to do every day.

I greatly respect the opinions of those who disagree with our decision, and who prefer to continue to champion the term social marketing. I also greatly appreciate the words of encouragement (or at least understanding) from others who see why we came to find the term to be challenging for our business audience.

For those who are not on the social marketing listserv, here are some excerpts from the discussion that is taking place there (names omitted). I’d welcome any additional comments here as well. Thanks for reading and engaging!

  • I think we’re going on almost 10 years now as a field in which the term “social marketing” has only become more diluted. A Google search for resources in our field is almost useless. While I still use the term “social marketing” on a regular basis (it’s my URL for gosh sakes), I nearly always on first reference will describe what I do as “marketing for social impact” when I don’t know if the other person is familiar with the term. I think this is hurting us as a field. I think about what I would tell a client who has invested a lot of time and resources into a program name that just isn’t resonating with their audience. Maybe it’s time to transition to a more meaningful and descriptive name. We don’t have to give up “social marketing” but if we want people to find us and understand what we’re about, we may need to augment the term. The question is, is our audience those who don’t already know about our powerful social marketing approach, or is our audience us? We need to eat our own dog food and brand ourselves in a way that connects with the people we want to reach as a field.
  • I think Ogilvy is spot-on. It is so draining to have to start every conversation about Social Marketing with the phrase “it’s not Social Media.” Such talk is disempowering, deflects the importance of our field, and causes our audience to glaze-over. It is absolutely, IMHO, hurting our brand.
  • I agree completely with the need for re-branding. As a young professional and student, I find that over time I have sought more and more distance from the term ‘social marketing’ for all of the reasons mentioned above. Even when speaking with fellow public health researchers and professionals, I discover halfway through the conversation that their understanding of social marketing is not the same as mine. The trend to shy away from labeling ourselves ‘social marketers’ is a sign. We need to find a way to market social marketing better and I would not rule out changing the name of the discipline.
  • Sorry to disagree with you. Wonderful things happen when people ask me to explain social marketing. I get into a much larger discussion than if I say that I am a practitioner of social change. They never quite thought of marketing in that way and they see it as a whole new tool box. Then if I give them a copy of [the] Social Marketing book, and they are stunned by how many great examples of successful social marketing already exist. And the listserv social marketing network itself allows a quick search for help on any social marketing problem.
  • I can tell you from extensive personal experience that people of good intellect and good will are put off by our having to run through the “it’s not social media” litany prior to discussing what our discipline really is. Their first and overwhelming impression, from our name, is that we are social media. Why dissipate our energy and theirs on a naming mishap?
  • I do understand all that would have to evolve were we to take the brave step of rebranding ourselves (urls, books, journals, business cards, certificates and degree programs…) – but it could happen over time. The important thing, IMHO, is that we project a positive, contemporary image going forward, without having to explain that “we named ourselves before social media came to be.” How old-fashioned a description that makes us sound!!
  • I agree there is a lot of confusion from those outside the field on “what is social marketing.” Very often when I see the term it does not refer to the process we intend. Just some food for thought: In trying to explain this again the other day I came upon a critique new to me. The people didn’t object to the “social” part, they immediately turned-off at the word “marketing,” as they associated it with underhanded manipulation. If we’re re-thinking the brand, perhaps it’s not just confusion with social media that holds the name back from broader acceptance. I’m sure some focus groups could give other insights on if and how a change could be good.
  • I have several reasons for wanting to leave it as Social Marketing: (1) Social Change is “nebulous/broad.” We are only one of many strategies for social change. We’d have to always explain what our particular strategy is. (2) Social Change Marketing has the same problem. You could be marketing social change strategies without a focus on our unique sales proposition (USP) which is behavior change. (3) Social Marketing equity, as others have mentioned: Journals, Conferences, Associations, Degrees, Courses, Certificates, Government RFPs. (4) Social media did shorten from social media marketing . . . that helped. (5) I find it is a good and quick attention getter and conversation starter.
  • Marketing in Brazil, for instance, has the worst connotations among the general public and even among educated people. Using the word marketing here to explain what social marketing is about is a sure way to turn the audience off. Unless I am talking to people from the commercial world or from some leading non-profits. Depending on the recipient, I have been using several terms such as behavioral design, behavior change management, behavioral engineering and so on. This is not good, it hurts brand equity and it does not help in the positioning of social marketing. Only when I feel that I am on firm ground I move to use social marketing. In other words, I strive to tailor the talking to the audience. My feeling is that we are lost in the long tail of conceptual approaches, mixed with social media marketing, cause marketing, public advocacy etc.
  • From a UK and European perspective Social Marketing is I find a very helpful term to describe the development of social programs that seek to create social value from a citizen’s perspective. I have also worked in over 20 countries and have found that people have no problem with the term. Social marketing is also a term that many governments now use and it is endorsed by ECDC and WHO Europe, etc. I think it is always helpful to seek to develop better ways to describe what we do but its also important to recognise that there is a growing theoretical academic base and evidence base for social marketing. This is only going to grow. So it’s important to be protective of our ‘brand’ and as well as worrying about some confusion celebrate the growing influence and acceptance of social marketing around the world.
  • Some of you want to be social change agents, the most over-used and inarticulate statement for being since “innovation?” and what is this “social change” you aspire to doing? Kumbaya and empowerment? Community development and grassroots organizing? Political and legal advocacy? Teaching people in developing countries to be “entrepreneurs”? Holding up every project for good as the creat of the wave of social entrepreneurship that will save the world? What if we helped them build individual and community assets (using marketing), helped them focus on their priority problems and groups, made markets work for the poor rather than leaving them to fend for themselves cloaked in the respectability of being “entrepreneurs?” Said to social entrepreneurs, “I respect what you’re trying to do and I have some tricks to help you do it better.” My, that was a bit tough -wasn’t it? But more true than some of you may think. What is “social change” – and why would a PR agency presume to be in that line of work, really? Are most clients, or would be clients, really out to change the world (yes there are a few, but many fewer than you know)? And are they actually trying to change the world, or solve a specific problem they have – or sense some group of people has?
  • From the perspective of an established practitioner, it may make sense to associate yourself with social marketing because you don’t necessarily need people to understand your ‘elevator speech’. But from the perspective of someone just entering the field of public health, it is frustrating and ineffective to associate myself with a field that no one understands. The fact of the matter is, either something needs to change or people like me will just stop using the term because it is not helping us move forward in our careers.
  • I use many different terms to identify, define, explain, and persuade decision makers to use social marketing strategies. So tailoring to my audience is key for me. Many of you who know me know that I think about audience first. So I try to read up on an audience, ask them a few questions and listen so I can then decide how to approach them about social marketing. Then I might start using the SM language interspersed to introduce them to the concepts. But we don’t have to fully educate every potential user on all of OUR jargon and details in order to get them to “buy or use” our services. If we do we’re lost as a field. And by the way, that’s contrary to our field’s whole notion of practice…So what? So what if we use social marketing for our journals and conferences, so what if we use a different term when we write a proposal, so what if we use a different term when we talk to a decision-maker, or a program manager? We can always bring the uneducated along and explain the history of our field, the evolution, and where we are now, if they’re interested. If they’re not interested then we need to be on their wavelength to start with…We’re not a brand in the classical sense of having a single organizational home that builds, adapts, distributes, and promotes a unique and beneficial offering to its audiences. We have multiple homes in many countries with varying cultures and different histories of the meaning of the word social and marketing. We can’t ask professionals in those places to ignore their own landscape, lest they become the Ford Pinto, Pepsi Brings You Back to Life, or Got Milk examples when introduced in other cultures (http://glantz.net/blog/campaigns-that-failed-to-translate).

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 2nd, 2015 at 10:47 pm and is filed under Public Health, Social Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to “What’s In A Name?”

  1. Madelin Siedler says:

    I was watching the discussion on the ListServ with a lot of interest as well. As a young professional in the health communication field, I’m still not sure how I feel about the name change.

    On the one hand, I understand the frustration that comes with explaining that social marketing is NOT social media (or at least is so much more than just one type of media strategy). I also understand that when communicating the goals of social marketing, it’s important to meet the client/audience “where they’re at,” and if another name is better able to explain to them the goals of your strategy, then that’s the right choice.

    However, I can’t say I agree that “social change marketing” is the right term either. To me, it sounds too much like cause marketing rather than focusing on behavior change. “Social change marketing” might just as easily be mistaken for product strategies like TOMS shoes than “social marketing” is currently mistaken for “social media.” We are not selling bracelets hand-woven by women in developing nations when we practice social marketing. We are trying to effect change in behavior on the individual level. To me, a better term for Social Marketing 2.0 would be something along the lines of “behavior change marketing.”