Presidential Address a Social Marketing Research Agenda For Consumer Behavior Researchers

Alan R. Andreasen, University of Connecticut
[ to cite ]:
Alan R. Andreasen (1993) ,"Presidential Address a Social Marketing Research Agenda For Consumer Behavior Researchers", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research.

Advances in Consumer Research, Volume 20, 1993        Pages 1-5



Alan R. Andreasen, University of Connecticut

It was seventeen years ago that I had my first exposure to social marketing. I was asked by Bill Novelli, then head of Porter/Novelli, to become a marketing consultant to the National High Blood Pressure Education Program in Washington, D.C. High blood pressure was then - and is now - a leading cause of cardiovascular disease which kills more Americans than cancer, AIDS, drug addiction, and accidents combined. At the time, perhaps 32 million American were determined to be hypertensives (a figure since revised upward) and only 51 % of them were aware of their problem. The remainder were individuals we thought of as walking time bombs unaware of their risk. Only a quarter of the population knew of the link between high blood pressure and heart disease.

It was fascinating to watch and learn from Bill and his colleagues as they developed a communications program using marketing concepts and techniques I was teaching in my classroom. The experience changed my career. I was an academic product of the social revolution of the late sixties and early seventies and frustrated with what I was doing. My friends in Sociology and Political Science were worrying about issues like poverty, the VietNam war, and military recruiting on campus, and so on, while I was busy teaching my students how to market Chevrolets and Clairol Shampoo.

Matters began to change when the Ghetto riots in the late 60s revealed intense frustration with the marketing system. For the first time, I could see that, by trying to understand and ameliorate these problems, I could match my academic skills to something that really mattered to me. And, as many of you know, over the years I have continued to have concern for the problems of disadvantaged consumers and others inhabiting what Beth Hirschman two years ago called the "dark side of the marketplace."

My 1975 encounter with Porter/Novelli and the NHBPEP opened my eyes to the potential for marketing to work positively for the good of society beyond merely (to use a classroom cliche of the time) "delivering a better standard of living." Since 1975, I have had the good fortune to continue to work with Porter/Novelli and to meet and learn from a wide range of individuals who now would call themselves social marketers at places like the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, the United Way, and the Academy for Educational Development. I have had the chance to work in such challenging environments as Colombia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mexico, and (to show it was not all hard duty) Barbados and Jamaica.

This fascinating and personally rewarding work has led me to this conference and to this podium. This ACR conference means a great deal to me in terms of my own ambitions and what I want to leave as a legacy to the society and my chosen academic discipline. I very much want this conference to be a watershed event after which there is a deluge of involvement on the part of consumer researchers in solving the myriad social problems for which consumer behavior holds the key. With the leadership of program chairs Leigh McAlister and Mike Rothschild, we have put together a program full of social marketing experiences and insights, peopled with many of the social marketers with whom I have worked over the years.

It is a time to jump start social marketing. But, I am not naive. I have been disillusioned before. In 1975, 1 published an overview of the work on what was then called "Ghetto Marketing" in which I pointed out that, after barely five years, this extremely important topic was in its decline phase (Andreasen 1978). Faddish researchers had moved on to new "hot" topics leaving behind crucial questions that were important not only to the social issues themselves but also to the marketing and consumer research discipline itself. I do not want this to happen again. But, I know it might. For this reason, the primary objective of my address today is to provide you with some additional motivational spark - if you still need some - to get involved.

However, you may be surprised at the approach I have chosen to take. Contrary to the expectations of many, I am not going to describe the very real, positive emotions that you would experience from working on important issues like getting people to control their high blood pressure or to stop smoking, getting parents in developing countries to have their kids immunized or promoting oral rehydration therapy to save the lives of the four million children who now die of diarrheal diseases. I will not point to the fascinating people you will meet and from whom you will learn. Nor will I dwell on the intense satisfaction you can have when you learn about the success of a program on which you have worked. (By 1980, NHBPEP could report that three-quarters of hypertensives were aware of their problem and by 1985 that 91% of the general public knew that high blood pressure increases one's chance of getting heart disease.)

Rather, I am going to talk about some things that are much more immediately relevant to most of us. Academic life, of which most of us are a part, revolves around scholarship, intellectual pursuit, and the joys of teaching. It is what we are rewarded for doing. But, it is also what we like to do. It is what got us into the profession in the first place. Thus, the case I want to make to you here today is that immersion in the real world of social marketing is not only good for the soul but good for the mind and the resume as well. It is food for both the right and left sides of the brain. What I wish to argue is that by involving yourself in social marketing you can help stretch the disciplines of consumer behavior and marketing. I am convinced that involvement in these social marketing issues has already led to some important developments in our field. More importantly, however, the field of social marketing lays before us a set of research challenges that can help keep us productive, intellectually growing, and highly relevant for at least the next decade. Let me suggest some of the possibilities that can constitute a social marketing research agenda for the 1990s.


Just so we are clear, let me start off with my own definition of social marketing and clear up some misconceptions people seem to have.

Social marketing is the adaptation of commercial marketing technologies to the analysis, planning, execution and evaluation of programs designed to influence the behavior of target audiences in order to improve their physical and mental well-being and/or that of the society of which they are a part.

As this definition should make clear, social marketing is not to be confused with what should be called "societal marketing" or, more generally, "marketing and public policy." The latter deals with the other, darker face of marketing about which I and others are also interested. Whereas societal marketing is protective: social marketing is proactive.

The definition also makes clear that the bottom line of social marketing is influencing behavior. I believe that what makes marketing different from many other social change approaches is its focus on the behavior of target consumers. Too many in social marketing confuse marketing with communication. While marketers communicate information, we are not in the education business. While we attempt to convince people of the rightness of certain beliefs, we are also not in the propaganda business. Many of the health programs I have observed or worked with around the world are, in fact, largely education and propaganda programs. Contrary to what Kotler and Zaltman said in 197 1, social marketing is not an attempt "to influence the acceptability of social ideas"(Kotler and Zaltman 1971, emphasis added). Education and propaganda are only useful if they lead to behavior change. It is this behavioral mindset and its concommitant emphasis on customers that turns out to have massive appeal to social change practitioners and partially explains why many of them are here with us today.


While social marketing practitioners have much to learn from us, I would argue that we have much to learn from trying to think about how our approaches to consumer behavior might apply to their issues. Indeed, in my view, we have already benefitted significantly. I would claim that a major paradigm shift in our conceptualization of consumer behavior itself emerged from our thinking about social marketing issues. I am speaking of the shift from a view of marketing as a one-way attempt by a marketer to influence consumers through the four Ps to a view of the process as one of creating exchanges.

The rise of exchange theory, I believe, was given a major stimulus by marketing scholars tying to expand the concept of "consumer behavior" and "marketing" to encompass something as nontraditional as going to college, wearing seat belts, or giving blood. For example, promoting blood donations seemed to be an opportunity for "marketing," yet there were no products or services offered and no monetary payment made by the consumer. In fact, the consumer often voluntarily suffered when making the "purchase." Traditional unidirectional views of consumer behavior could not encompass such a strange case. We needed a new paradigm. The old way, like earth-centered astronomy before Copernicus, was simply not elastic enough to contain these new transactions. Thus, we slowly embraced exchange theory.

However, my work in social marketing presented several problems with the current paradigm. For example, for a time I was bothered by our use of the term consumer behavior to describe the behaviors I was trying to influence. In social marketing situations, it was hard to imagine what is being consumed. When a teenager gives up smoking marijuana as the result of a Centers for Disease Control campaign, a behavior has been influenced. But what is consumed? When someone gives blood, what is consumed? I shortly realized that my work and teaching in the commercial sector had seduced me into associating consumption with things but that, as we need to keep reminding ourselves, what is really consumed are benefits. Products and services are benefit-generating entities. Similarly, giving blood or abandoning drugs are benefit-generating activities.

But this logic leads to another intriguing conceptual and research problem. It turns out that many of the behaviors social marketers are tying to influence comprise benefits that the consumer generates with virtually no involvement of the marketer. In conventional transactions, there is a clear marketer who wants to influence the consumer by manipulating costs or benefits that the marketer controls, the price, the quality of the product or service, and so on. But, what of safe sex? One might argue that marketers control the benefits that follow from the behavior when they promote the safety of safe sex. But, suppose research has shown that the best way to get people, especially young people, to practice safe sex is to get them to learn that it can be sexy. Yet, the sexiness of the experience is something that the "consumer" controls. He or she can increase the benefits and provide rewards. If this is the case, then who is the marketer here?

What I believe is now needed is a conceptual framework for understanding how consumers benefit themselves in the consumption process and how we can make them better generators of their own benefits. Ibis would have a number of interesting payoffs in the areas of health and nutrition where athletes and dieters have to convince themselves that, for the costs they are expending, the behaviors are worth it. If marketers encounter them in clinics or offices, they can praise them with positive feedback. But much exercise and dieting is a lonely process. The consumer must learn self-reward. If they cease to believe the behavior works (whatever that means for them), they will stop.

As I will argue throughout this presentation, the implications Of research along these lines are not limited to social marketing. It is often pointed out that consumers are active participants in the production of services in the private sector. If one sees this service production process as one of generating benefits, then shouldn't service marketers learn how to help consumers generate more of their own benefits? Shouldn't an accomplished chef-restaurateur teach her patrons to appreciate a fine meal? Shouldn't a record company educate classical music buyers about what they are hearing?


Consider again exchange theory. Although our terminology will differ, most of us teach and Write about the exchange process as one in which the consumer pays some costs and gets some benefits in return. We then suggest - in very naive terms - that "all" a marketer has to do to be more successful is to improve the benefit/cost ratio relative to alternative behaviors, including inaction. Many of us then go on to propose some form of the expectancy-value framework to analyze customer perceptions about the consequences of the behavior being recommended.

But I have always been struck by something inconsistent in our use of this model. On the one hand, in exchange theory, we conceptualize the consumer decision making process as one where the consumer compares a bundle of benefits to a bundle of costs. Yet, when researchers develop expectancy-value models, they rarely model cost and benefit consequences separately. It would seem to me to be a very useful line of research to explore the potential of the latter. One could ask:

1. Are better predictions of intentions and/or behavior achieved through the use of separate cost-bundle and benefit-bundle constructs, each with its own weighting coefficient?

2. If this makes sense, are the weighting coefficients useful bases for segmentation?

3. Are weighting coefficients linked to other constructs we use? For example, are cost-bundle coefficients associated with such traits such as risk aversion, self-efficacy, and so on?

4. Does the relative importance of the cost and benefit bundles change over the decision process?

The last-mentioned hypothesis stems, in part, from my experience in social marketing projects involving long term high involvement behaviors. I have come to the tentative conclusion that, in many such cases, the relative importance of costs versus benefits changes over the life of the decision process. In the early stages of the process, benefits are extremely important. If consumers cannot be convinced that there are personal benefits to be derived from a particular behavior, such as getting their child immunized for measles, then cost considerations are irrelevant - he or she is not even going to contemplate action. However, once benefits are perceived, then costs become paramount. Indeed, I have argued that in many campaigns it is foolish to continue promoting benefits to most target audiences. Most people already know the benefits of quitting smoking, detecting breast cancer early, or wearing a seat belt. What keeps them from behaving is the perception that the costs are too high. I would argue that this accounts for some of the findings in Rick Bagozzi's pioneering attitude modeling research on blood donation behavior. In recent months, I have been arguing to many social marketing campaign planners that perhaps late-stage marketing should focus on cost- reduction, not benefit enhancement. I would, however, like to see a more scientific basis for this argument.


As the preceding comment suggests, my work in social marketing has significantly increased my interest in what we have called hierarchical models of consumer decision making and other social scientists call stage models. The behaviors we deal with are very highly involving-. We are trying to influence behavior related to sexuality, motherhood, one's own body, one's children, and potentially fatal diseases. Because these issues are so central to the target audience's self-image, they are frequently very slow to change.

Through an advisory panel at the American Cancer Society on which I sit, I have become aware of a number of so-called staged approaches to behavior change. Among the more interesting is the work of Jim Prochaska at the University of Rhode Island (Prochaska 1991). Jim proposes six stages:

1. Precontemplation where the individual has no intention of changing, possibly through ignorance of the problem;

2. Contemplation where the individual is seriously thinking of changing in some reasonably short time horizon;

3. Preparation where the individual has formed an intention and is planning to actually take the behavior;

4. Action where the individual is clearly changing;

5. Maintenance where the individual is attempting to hold to the new pattern;

6. Termination where the individual is not tempted to reengage in the old undesirable behavior.

Prochaska develops specific measurable markers to identify each stage and then develops marketing actions that will move the individual to the next stage. The goal is not to change a person from not doing to doing a behavior but to moving them along a process. This approach has been highly effective with smokers. It raises a number of interesting questions for those of us in consumer research:

1. In cases where processes appear to take place in stages, is it still appropriate to use the concept of "intention" as a dependent variable in behavioral studies? Is it not just appropriate to the contemplation stage?

2. Are Prochaska's six stages the appropriate ones for the commercial sector? Should, for example, the contemplation stage be divided further? In the action stage, is it useful, as Bagozzi and Warshaw (1989) would suggest, to distinguish between trying to act and acting?

3. Are the appropriate sets of predictor variables different for different transitions?


One of the realities of social marketing is that program managers must address enormous problems with limited funds. For this reason, I spend a great deal of my time urging program managers to focus much of their budgets very tightly each planning period on target markets they feel they can immediately influence. I have also tried to find ways to help them locate those who are in some sense "ready to change." This line of thinking has led me to hypothesize that an individual's readiness to change at any point may be a function of three, possibly additive, factors:

1. Basic readiness, a personality trait undoubtedly related to innovativeness, sensation-seeking, preference for stasis, risk proneness, and so on. It is what we mean when we say: Sally will try more new things than Fred will.

2. Category-specific readiness, a recognition that each individual will have a range around their "basic readiness" reflecting the many types of decisions they have to make. It is what we mean when we say that, while Sally will, in general, try more new behaviors, she is less willing to vacation in foreign countries than Fred is.

3. Situation-specific readiness, a recognition that circumstances may alter category-specific readiness. It is what we mean when we say that, when Sally got divorced, she was much more willing to undertake foreign travel than "normal" while Fred, after his divorce, was less likely to want to travel.

As you may know, situational factors have interested me for some time (Andreasen 1984). The work I have done linking status change to change in preferences is of particular interest to social marketers. They would be delighted to learn that it is generally true that individuals undergoing status change are much more likely than others to be "ready to change." Then they could concentrate their efforts on target markets undergoing status change. Immunization programs could be concentrated in geographical areas where immigrants have recently moved, contraception programs could target new mothers in hospitals, and Vitamin A programs could target workers just hired on at a factory.

I have also thought that we need to learn much more about what I have come to call behavioral triggers. In many situations in both social and commercial marketing, we find that consumers will become quite favorably disposed towards some action, yet delay a long time in carrying it out. All too often, some new situational factor emerges to deflect them against it. If we knew more about the critical stimuli that finally gets action, we could close more transactions, and diminish the influence of situational deterrents.


Given that social marketing's bottom line typically involves change, I have begun to think more carefully about the concept of change itself and whether it would be useful to develop a new taxonomy of change. The innovation adoption researchers, of course, have visited this issue before and their distinctions may continue to be useful in a social marketing context. However, I have tended to look at the issue somewhat differently. In my view, social marketers are seeking to influence behaviors that involve: (a) starting a behavior, such as giving blood for the first time or beginning contraception; (b) stopping a behavior, such as giving up drugs or shoplifting; and (c) switching a behavior, such as driving 55 instead of 65-plus or eating a low cholesterol diet instead of a high cholesterol dict. This distinction raises some interesting questions:

1. Are the concepts we use to predict behavior change the same for all three types of change? Do they work the same way? For example, are the effects of perceived self-efficacy the same if one is trying to acquire a new skill where the self-efficacy issue is one of "can I learn this thing or do it the right way" than if one is trying to stop a behavior where the self-efficacy issue may be one of willpower?

2. If we are vying to get people to switch behaviors, should we really work with dual models, one that predicts the elimination of the old behavior and one that predicts the adoption of the new behavior?

Two other change dimensions are important in social marketing, both involving the social context of the change. One dimension is public-private. Many changes, such as stopping smoking, are very public and, in such cases, social norms can play a big role in bringing about the change. Other changes, such as getting an anti-contraception injection of Depo-Provera, are or can be very private and must come about with very personalized persuasion. The second dimension is whether the change comes about by individual action or must be made by collectivities, whether a whole community or a couple as in the case of AIDS prevention. This taxonomy suggests twelve types of behavior change. I believe we should ask whether standard behavior change models are equally appropriate to all 12 cases. It is, again, clearly an area in which we very much need your help.


There are numerous challenges in social marketing for those whose interest is primarily in methodology. And there are also some interesting incentives. First of all, for those who prefer to work with traditional survey methodologies, there will be the distinct pleasure of once again doing personal interviews and having very large samples. Much social marketing work is in developing countries. Personal interviewing costs for research can range from $6 in Turkey to $12 to $13 in the Philippines.

Second, for those who like to work with secondary datasets, a number of opportunities for large scale reanalyses will be emerging in the next few years. Social marketing has been around long enough in the family planning and child survival areas that major databases are now being put in place and I am hopeful that at some future time soon many of them will become available to researchers in ACR.

Those involved in post-modem field methodologies will also find much to interest them in social marketing. To cite one instance, social marketers have a major need for what they have come to call "rapid ethnography." They need a quick, valid, and reliable technology for understanding the diverse cultural traditions, group norms, tribal hierarchies, and values in developing countries where they work.

Finally, those interested in psychometrics might find intriguing the problems social marketers have in developing valid and reliable measures of complex cognitive and behavioral phenomena that can be applied to nonliterate populations. How does one develop an expectancy-value model without having a potentially biasing field interviewer read questions? Can pictorial scales be effective? What are the effects on validity of alternative methods of pictorial representation? Are these effects similar across Latin American, African, and Asian cultures? More generally, are any measurement techniques we would like to use in social marketing valid and reliable across cultures?


Before concluding, I want to mention two other career advantages I see from carrying out research in social marketing. First, conducting research on social marketing can be expected to increase the number of publication outlets for your research. Whereas many journals in the traditional social sciences might minimize the value of articles researching choices of automobiles or coffee, they are less likely to be biased against studies of mothers' use of oral rehydration solution or Vitamin A.

I would also argue that work in social marketing can help enrich our classrooms. There is ample evidence that students in general and business school students in particular are turning away from the self-centered pursuits common in the 1980s and developing a growing interest in social issues. Our students care about the homeless and AIDS and drug addiction. Bringing knowledge and applications from social marketing into the classroom can have two important effects: (a) it can make discussions more animated and can capture the attention of marginal students; and (b) it can show business school students that the technology and concepts they are learning can have uses beyond business confines. While not ready to join the Peace Corps or sign up with HEALTHCOM in Mali, they are delighted to learn that many of the things we consumer behaviorists teach them can help them if they choose to work in their own communities with unwed teenage mothers, smokers, drug addicts or people with AIDS.


I have tried to argue here that involvement in social marketing is not just good for the soul. It can provide rich intellectual challenges to ACR members of widely varying interests. It can lead to new ways of thinking and teaching about the field. It can lead to new ideas and new publications. The insights we can derive will stretch our basic discipline of consumer behavior in ways that will benefit all of our target audiences. And it will increase our real-world relevance, an objective Bill Wells, for one, argues we have too often forsaken.

We have before us the opportunity to make the work we do relevant to making our society and the world a healthier and happier place. I ask you to join me. It can make a difference, personally, professionally and societally.

You will not regret it.


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Bagozzi, Richard P. and Paul Warshaw (1989), "Trying to Consume" Journal of Consumer Research,

Kotler, Philip and Gerald Zaltman (1971), "Social Marketing: An Approach to Planned Social Change," Journal of Marketing, 3-12.

Prochaska, James 0., W.F. Velicer, C.C. DiClemente, E. Guadagnoli and J.S. Rossi (1991). "Patterns of Change: Dynamic Typology Applied to Smoking Cessation," Multivariate Behavioral Research, 83-107.