From legalising pot to giving you free power on Saturdays via plastic carrier bags – three stories in today’s news should make social marketers sit up and take note.
Social marketing – the changing of consumer behaviour for social good through wide-ranging (and often oblique) ‘nudging’ / behavioural change techniques – is one of the most fascinating areas of the marketing practice as far as I’m concerned.
So when the story broke on the BBC that Uruguay is moving to legalise marijuana sales (moving it to a Government approved supply chain – somewhat like the LCBO in Ontario, Canada, I believe), I pricked up my ears.
Hot on the heels of that came the information that Centrica are considering giving users of their Smart Meter technology free electricity on a Saturday to ease demand on the grid during the week.
And, to complete the triumphant triumvirate, Osocio picked up the news that design agency Mother have revisited an experiment aiming to make people think differently about using a plastic carrier bag.
What links these stories?
Firstly; behaviour change. They are all intended to alter end-user/consumer behaviour in a tangible way.
Secondly; social good (reducing drug deaths by changing the addiction gateway, improving power distribution with a money saving carrot, and reducing both litter and landfill).
Thirdly; an understanding that the solution to a problem might not be the most obvious one. For Uruguay, we would traditionally expect advertising campaigns and huge Police raids; for Centrica reasoned pleas to householders with some general emotional logic; for the plastic bags, advertising campaigns demonstrating the environmental consequences.
Will they work?
In the case of Uruguay, maybe. Changing behaviour by providing access to a legitimate source of marijuana might prevent some individuals from making contact with the, how can I say, less salubrious members of the underground drug community and removing the opportunity for the offer of a ‘little something extra for the weekend’. Additionally, moving the drug into the mainstream may result in it being less attractive to those who gave it a go because it was seen as rebellious or ‘cool’, thus lowering use and the gateway potential.
Free electricity on a Saturday? For some people, this will be really attractive. However, the actual behavioural change here is to redefine how these people spend their weekends. If they used to do all of their laundry overnight in the week, then shifting it onto a Saturday morning might be a step too far. Of course, the law of unintended consequences might suggest that hitting the grid harder at the weekend might be even more of an inconvenience to those of us who tend to use more power at the weekend because we’re at home to enjoy it (kettle, toaster, Playstation etc).
And the plastic bags? A nice design concept which I can see becoming collector’s pieces, framed and on the walls of ball-achingly hip hair dressing salons in the more expensive parts of town. But as a tool to change behaviour? I doubt it very much.
These are three disparate stories which demonstrate unequivocally the power that social marketing should be wielding in a practical context.
As marketers, we should be reframing our practice into society/community focuses, understanding the pathways our users/consumers take to get to our product/service and understanding the role of that behaviour over attitude plays in decision making.
We might all be trying to make a buck somewhere, and only a few of us might be working in the social good field.
But, with the right lens, even the most rampantly commercial product could be put to a socially good use.
So, my question to you is this – social marketing: present reality or fleeting fad? Do you use social marketing approaches in your work, or do you just sell, sell, sell?
Neil Hopkins is a Marketing and Branding Theorist at heart, and a Marketing Communications Manager by day. His blog – interacter – is the primary location he shares insight and information relating to marketing, branding and advertising strategy.
You can follow Neil on Twitter, circle him (like an escaped bull) on Google+ or track him down in any number of other ways.
Featured image found on Flickr. I like it, and it sort of demonstrates the people principles behind social marketing.