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When should social marketing be used?

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Ethical guidelines

Social marketing, like other forms of public health interventions, is also guided by ethical considerations. Whenever a decision is made that will directly influence the behaviour of people, even if adopting that behaviour is likely to protect them from a communicable disease, it is important that the ethical implications of all actions are considered.

Public health programme managers/practitioners and policy makers need to explicitly agree on the appropriateness of public health programmes that aim to influence behaviours and they also need to communicate these decisions and the rationale that lies behind them with the beneficiary groups. The following ethical code [26] can help when making decisions about when to use social marketing:

  • evaluate the ethicality of a policy before agreeing to develop a strategy
  • work to ensure that any intervention will do more good than harm and that all potential harms are minimised and transparently explained
  • select tactics that are sensitive, effective and efficient and produce the greatest return on social investment
  • determine that the intervention gives assistance when and where it is needed
  • evaluate and publish a report on outcomes of all interventions
  • ensure that the autonomy of target audiences is recognised and respected
  • ensure that all parties are treated equally and fairly
  • ensure that the rights of all stakeholders are understood.

Applying social marketing principles- the role of managers, policy makers and practitioners

Public health programme managers, planners, policy makers and front line public health workers all have a key role to play in both deciding when to apply social marketing and ensuring that interventions are delivered to a high standard. Without senior management and policy level support, implementation staff will find it hard to use and sustain social marketing interventions. [27]

The first key task for public health programme managers is to familiarise themselves with the key social marketing concepts set out in this guide. The second key task is to consider when it is appropriate to use a social marketing approach to influence behaviour.

The third key task is to encourage staff to develop their understanding of social marketing and support their efforts. Public health programme managers can do this by:

  • investing in training for staff in social marketing theory and practice
  • investing in scoping work to develop intervention plans based on epidemiology, demographics, citizens’ insight and understanding, evidence reviews and ethical considerations
  • encouraging the development of social marketing case studies and research projects to build experience and add to the evidence base
  • encouraging the development of audience insight and segmentation to help target interventions
  • encouraging the development of clear and specific behavioural programme objectives that can be measured and tracked over time (SMART approach)
  • engaging people and other stakeholders in developing interventions that go beyond information giving and include other forms and types of interventions such as service redesign
  • requiring implementation staff to produce clear written plans that include both project management and evaluation strategies
  • ensuring that learning from programmes informs planning and is shared.

© European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, 2014

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