How Social Marketing Benefits the Society and What are the Ethical Dilemmas ? – Research Based

There are many problems that need to be improved and changed in today’s society, such as health problems and environmental problems that we as a member in the world need to help improve. People have more and more weapons to fight against these issues because of the accelerating use of the Internet and social media. Through the appeal of the Internet, people can quickly spread strong and powerful ideas to the audience. Among them, social marketing is regarded as one of the essential factors to change the society. Undercover of the COVID-19 epidemic, the world has fallen into the most severe panic since the 21st century. In this seemingly out of control pandemic, human beings have tried their best to contain the spread of the virus. In addition to the development of vaccines and policy restrictions, people also try to develop an effective social marketing plan to enhance public awareness of social distancing and general health prevention of all people, whether this will also effectively control the epidemic. However, social marketing is often accompanied by the use of fear appeal method to bring crisis awareness and tension to the audience, which is often criticized for violating the moral standards. This report will explore whether social marketing can make a difference in today’s society.

Since the 1970s, Philip Kotler has been actively seeking the possibility of introducing marketing concepts into the field of social issues, advocating that behavior or concept be packaged as a “commodity” in exchange for the target customer group to “establish new behavior” as a reward. In this regard, social marketing refers to the application of principles and skills of commercial marketing in social units to improve social goals and concepts and change behavior patterns. The formation of the concept of social marketing stems from corporate social responsibility; meanwhile, it is also the concrete result under the campaign of marketing concept expansion.

The National Social Marketing Centre stated that “social marketing” is a combination of commercial marketing and social science. Usually people that heard of this term for the first time were generally confused with this term “social media marketing” (which is a popular genre of commercial marketing). They do have some common elements and tools that they use, but just by looking at these two terms people somehow just spontaneously think they are the same thing. Social marketing “borrows” some tools from commercial marketing (ex. social media) to productively influence the society by actually changing their target audiences’ behavior not just to raise the awareness of the issue that they are promoting (National Social Marketing Centre, 2020, para.1).

Social marketing is a planned action to change public behavior, improve the quality of life, and cause social changes. Whether it is anti-drug, natural conservation, disease prevention, or safety maintenance, they belong to the scope of social marketing, which uses a simple sentence and visuals to generate specific actions to promote health or prevent safety. Social marketing can be measured by two indicators: the improvement of knowledge (education or information) and the change of behavior (attitude or action). However, behavior change, especially “voluntary behavior change,” is also the most challenging part of social marketing, because it is difficult to keep track of the effectiveness and calculate whether it is really going to change the target audience’s behavior. For example, in the marketing activities that encourage young people to vote, it is impossible to attract young people with “the substantial benefits of voting” explicitly. Only young people can be expected to change their minds voluntarily. Also, how do you keep track of their behavior after they see this commercial? 

Regarding the effectiveness of social marketing, many arguments show the positive effect of social marketing on the audience. According to research from Helmig, B., & Thaler, they demonstrate that social marketing’s effectiveness is the most critical aspect of social marketing. To prove the actual effectiveness, the authors designed a scientific experiment that collected a total of 139 identified articles that contained detailed information on social marketing effectiveness. Using observation, questionnaires, and surveys, the researchers found that the result of the highest social marketing effectiveness in social marketing commerce is 43.8%. “The outcome of the most significant change in behavior in the efficacy in social marketing commerce is 43.8 %, followed by intentional change 33.7% and attitude change 23.1%.” (Helmig & Thaler, 2010,Outcome Measurement Methods and Dependent Variables).

To understand the effectiveness of social marketing on people, a set of questionnaires was designed by me using google survey. The purpose of the survey is to analyze the feedback on a visual that uses fear appeals to promote the disadvantages about smoking cigarettes. In this questionnaire, 73.3% of the data indicated that in such a way of using fear appeals as a strategy in social marketing would have an opportunity to change and influence their behaviors earlier. And more than half of the respondents said they would cut down on smoking as a result of taking a glance at the unappealing poster (Chen, 2020). Both of the results indicate that social marketing is effective. Thus social marketing does have the power to change people’s behavior and needs to be valued more in our society where there are all different problems that need to be solved. 

Besides, there is one specific question in the survey that conducted the respondents’ responses to whether they think the propaganda picture, using fear appeals, will cause any psychological pressure to whom sees the poster, 60% of the respondents show that they will not be affected, and do not think that such propaganda will violate moral standards. These responses from the respondents also show that although they have expressed that such a means of publicity is appalling, it will not be considered immoral. However, it will deepen the impression of the audience on the advertising and make the effect more significant (Chen, 2020).

In general marketing of an enterprise, it often involves the consumer behavior of customers. According to the research, nearly two-thirds, or more precisely 64 percent of consumers will support or resist the brand, based on a company’s political or “social stances” (Edelman, 2020). If social stances are one of the factors, in this case is one significantly important issue to its brand image and how the social issues were dealt by the brand will also be seriously inspected by the consumers.

That is to say, a company that has a significant influence on society has a good brand image. The highly influential ability of these brands cannot be ignored, and they often use strong and powerful social marketing to improve the world. For example, the global epidemic of COVID-19 has recently become increasingly rampant. To improve the public’s health awareness, McDonald’s, Coca Cola, Volkswagens and other well known companies from varied areas have changed their brand’s logo to appeal to the audience to promote social distancing (Daoud, 2020, para.1)  Many sports associations such as the NBA also provided some extra assistance in forms like fundraising money to help people that are in need or whose lives are affected by COVID-19 (Cole, 2020).

If people started to talk about society issues because of one brand’s social marketing strategy, not only the brand image of the enterprise itself can be improved, but also better the society. Nowadays, consumers expect world known brands to not only have great quality in their products but also to support and focus on social issues with actions. Therefore, enterprises also began to express their positions on social issues in a very eye-catching way. More and more brands use the social mission to guide marketing communication, as a reference for product innovation, and to invest in social welfare programs. 

However, when most people think social marketing has brought numerous contributions changes and well-being to society, there are still some flaws about this marketing strategy that could bring up some controversial voices in this specific topic. One of the ideas worth exploring is that social marketing is fairly easy to become something that could manipulate the audience’s fear. The world has been changing, and many things will affect the world, such as global warming, terrorist attacks, or the refugee flows that force you to the country’s door. Those right  political parties are some seemingly facts that have made some people feel that the world is becoming a more and more dangerous place. While the left-wings are still advocating the openness and embracing differences. As the opposition between conservatives and liberals becomes more and more fierce, people at both ends of the spectrum will create a political environment in which most mixed fractions feel compelled to choose sides.

Politics does prove that social marketing can be used as a tool to manipulate fear. For example, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party of the United States have different opinions on the solution to the problem, and rarely have consensus on issues. When there is a conflict between the two sides, they are not trying to understand opponents’ point of views,  and this is indeed very dangerous.More and more people are prejudiced to deal with the information of their own also to the others, distorting information to self-benefit their own, and to misrepresent their opponents. Creating policies that favor themselves and try to misinterpret the information that is bad for the opponent’s party.

When it comes to false news, there are some concerns about the recent regret caused by the spread of the wrong treatment against COVID-19. This is also one of the doubts about social marketing. Recently, 210 people in Iran have died because they received the wrong message that drinking sterilized alcohol can fight against COVID-19. However, such false messages are emerging in an endless stream. Even on the Internet, such wrong messages appear that Coca alkali and bleach can cure the disease of COVID-19. Obviously, if the implementation of social marketing can not contribute to society, it will get an unfortunate negative effect (Afp, 2020, para.3).

As mentioned in Eagle’s literature, some doubts about social marketing ethics stem from widespread mistrust of commercial marketing, especially marketing communication/advertising. The primary ethical blame for marketing communication includes the accusations of untrue, deceptive, unfair, manipulative, and aggressive nature. Concerns about the morality of social marketing reflect many of these views. For example, although people are anxious about the appropriateness of social marketing strategies and the use of fear appeals, they also find problems that involve how to judge the competing needs and what kind of information is reasonable to seek from people to carry out social marketing activities (Eagle, n.d, p.13).

There are also various potential unexpected effects of a health communication campaign reported in the academic literature, among which several moral dilemmas are easy to come out unintentionally. For example, the confusion and misunderstanding of health risks and risk prevention methods or the reason for public health problems are attributed to individuals rather than social conditions. Or the social cohesion and control of the marginalization of the unhealthy minority groups brought by the movement, or even inadvertently improved the power of individuals and institutions, enhanced the image and financial status of the industry. All kinds of potential factors will make social marketing activities fall into the restriction of ethical dilemmas, making such events more complex (Eagle, n.d, p.9).

The content of social marketing contains a social concept that aims to better the society by changing people’s behavior. The effectiveness proves that every social issue can be improved at most 40 percent in a single topic, a video on youtube, a picture on instagram or even a line of words on social media could be one big step forward to a better world. The common use of the internet in the world has helped not only social marketers but also every person that is interested in improving society to make the world a better place. There are too many things that we know we need to improve in our society and there must be much more that we have not known, there need to be more influential brands and celebrities doing social marketing to raise awareness and more importantly change people’s behavior to better our world.




Afp, J. (2020). fake cures, risky rumors: virus misinformation hits home. Retrieve from:

Daoud, E. (2020). McDonald’s, Coca-Cola among major brands to change logos to encourage 

social distancing. Retrieve From:

Cole, S. (2020). coronavirus: how are sports brands responding on social media? Retrieve from:

Chen, D. (2020). Retrieve from:

Eagle, L. (n.d). social marketing ethics. Retrieve from:

Edelman. (2020). two-thirds of consumers worldwide now buy on beliefs. Retrieve from:

Helmig, B., & Thaler, J. (2010). on the effectiveness of social marketing-what do we really know? Retrieved From:

National Social Marketing Centre. (2020). What is social marketing?.

Retrieve from:


Leave a Reply