Special Session Summary Considering Social Marketing From the Perspective of Several Consumer Research Paradigms

Michael Rothschild, University of Wisconsin
Alan R. Andreasen, Georgetown University
[ to cite ]:
Michael Rothschild and Alan R. Andreasen (1998) ,"Special Session Summary Considering Social Marketing From the Perspective of Several Consumer Research Paradigms", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, eds. Joseph W. Alba & J. Wesley Hutchinson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 295-298.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, 1998      Pages 295-298



Michael Rothschild, University of Wisconsin

Alan R. Andreasen, Georgetown University

For many years now, Alan Andreasen has been arguing that social marketing presents significant intellectual opportunities to mainstream consumer behavior researchers who are seeking to stretch traditional theories and concepts. At the same time, he has noted that social marketing practitioners also have needs for fresh insights into what sometimes seem like intractable problems. This session was designed to address both interests.

Michael Rothschild began the session by pointing out that the behaviors with which social marketers are concerned are unlike those faced by marketers in the commercial sector in important respects. In the latter, consumers are asked to act in ways that clearly meet their self-interests and they typically receive relatively rapid and concrete gratification when they engage in proposed exchanges. This is often not true in social marketing where benefits are often unobservable, delayed or accruing to third parties. In the following presentation, Dipankar Chakravarti proposed that cognitive psychological theory may be helpful in understanding this problem. He argued that models of intuitive rather than cognitive thinking may be more helpful to researchers exploring these behaviors. He also suggested that practitioners would be better off if ways could be found by researchers to make third-party and unobservable or long-term benefits more accessible in long term memory.

Barbara Kahn, Mary Frances Luce and Wendy Moe then alerted us to the fact that benefits that consumers seek in social marketing situations often involve trade-offs with emotional costs such as fear and embarrassment. Their experimental research offered insights into ways these trade-offs are made. The problem of emotion was also addressed by Douglas Stayman who suggested that marketers ought to explore ways of helping consumers cope with emotions that may be interfering with desired behaviors. One approach he proposed is attaching positive emotions to the behavior rather than negative ones.

The concept of attaching labels to behaviors was of particular interest to Kevin Lane Keller. Keller suggested that branding of socially desirable behaviors could be a useful way of motivating consumers to act since they could use the behavior itself, among other things, as a way to express their self-image. Understanding such meanings of behaviors to consumers is the particular domain of hermeneutic scholarship and research, a topic addressed by Craig Thompson. Thompson suggested that such research would help marketers understand how benefits are perceived, how resistances formed, how messages can boomerang, and how competitor messages may be operating to mitigate the effectiveness of social marketing campaigns.

The final paper, by Bart Weitz, pointed out that many social marketing behaviors really involve long term relationships with marketers rather than single exchanges. He suggested that the relationship perspective, which also applies to social marketers’ interactions with intermediaries, can yield strategic insights as marketers assess alternative pathways to achieving commitment.

In concluding comments, Alan Andreasen pointed to several new research questions that the papers raised in his mind (and, possibly, even more in the minds of the audience and the researchers themselves). The session confirmed our collective optimism about the robustness of research in this area and validity of the premise that both sides, conventional scholars and social marketing practitioners, can benefit in important ways from fresh thinking in this area.



Michael L. Rothschild

Marketing in the public health and social issue arenas is inherently different from that in commercial arenas. In the latter, marketers succeed because they inherently play off the self interests of their target markets; "buy my brand and you will be better off". In many social cases, marketers ask their targets to act in ways that the targets do not perceive to be in their own self interests, and in ways that are the opposite of how the target has chosen to live after assessing its own environment.

Marketing can be described as voluntary exchange between parties, where each is seeking to maximize its own self interest at the expense of the other, while recognizing the need to accommodate the self interest of the other, in order to accomplish its own ends. Much social issue marketing fails because, while managers use some tools of marketing, they don’t consider the exchange that is the heart of marketing; they ask targets to behave in the self interest of society without offering anything in the immediate and personal self interest of the target. Social marketing often fails because it asks the target to act in opposition to its own perceptions of its own self interest, and then does not offer an explicit payback to compensate for the requested behavior.

Understanding exchange and self interest are important because all social issue managers are acting in a competitive environment where the target has the freedom of choice to behave as requested or not. Every behavior has the choice of the opposite behavior plus apathy and inertia as competitors. To be or not to be. To binge drink or not to binge drink. To exercise or not to exercise. To smoke or not to smoke. To eat vegetables or junk food.

All issues can be placed on a continuum that is bounded by "prone to change" and "resistant to change", and each issue will have a distribution of targets within it that also can be placed on this continuum. For any issue there will be those who are prone to change; if we make them aware of the proper behavior they will accept our admonitions; communications will be sufficient to manage their behavior. For any issue there also will be those who are resistant to change; they will never see that a particular behavior is in their self interest; the force of law will be necessary to manage the behavior of this target.

In the middle of the continuum is the opportunity to manage behavior through marketing and the development of exchanges which are in the target’s self interest. In the commercial arena marketing dominates communications and force of law, but in the social arena, marketing has been neglected in favor of these other behavior management tools.

This presentation considers input from behaviorism, neoclassical economics, evolutionary psychology, and social theory in dealing with the issues of self interest in the social marketing exchange. In a free choice society of self-interested individuals, marketing may be a more appropriate paradigm than communications or force of law; the core disciplines lsted here offer valuable insights for the development of marketing and consumer research thought.



Dipankar Chakravarti

Social policy involves efforts to intervene in the process or outcome of exchanges between marketers and target consumers in order to contribute to collective social goals (Andreasen 1991). Such interventions are intended to ensure that consumption exchanges are fair, equitable and safe, and contribute to improved economic and social welfare. The interventions may involve regulation designed to prevent or impede certain types of transactions (e.g., teenage smoking), the promotion of specific exchange forms (e.g., subsidies that encourage family planning), or the provision of information and attempts to persuade specific audiences regarding the (un)desirability of specific exchange behaviors (e.g., saying no to drugs).

A number of complications arise in the development of marketing interventions in social policy contexts. The to-be-altered behaviors are generally long-standing, more enduring and change-resistant compared to the traditional store or brand choice behaviors targeted by "normal" marketers. The target behaviors that social marketers seek are often negatively valued and the focus must be on changing this valence. Informational interventions are often ineffective in some target populations because the absence of prior knowledge inhibits comprehension and processing. Another deterrent to effective interventions is that the benefits of compliance may be invisible, intangible or evident only on the basis of counterfactual reasoning. And not the least of these problems is that the beneficiaries of the behavior are often third party actors who are not particularly salient to the focal consumer.

Although there is a significant body of cognitively oriented research on related issues, much remains to be done to address the above complexities in developing marketing interventions in social policy contexts. For example, if enduring behaviors are embedded in a shared socio-cultural context, the key to effective behavior change may lie in understanding the socio-cultural embed rather than the attributes of the behavior itself. Culturally derived schemas may provide a basis for motivation and values as well as the judgment and decision processes that drive consumer action (D’Andrade 1992).

Recent findings on attitude strength and persistence (with or without corresponding strongly-held beliefs) suggest new routes to persuasion that may be more effective in some social policy contexts than efforts based on the theory of reasoned action (Petty and Cacioppo 1996). Consistent with recent ideas (e.g., Hammond 1996) an intuitive (versus analytical) basis for cognition provides a different (and sometimes better) description of consumers’ marketplace behaviors. Such logic may reflect a more appealing and persuasive correspondence between consumer decisions and the facts of their consumption environments.

The framing literature also offers ingenious and effective approaches to altering the valence of target events and behaviors by subtle manipulations of contextual and linguistic cues (Tversky and Kahneman 1981, 1986). Similar approaches may effectively raise the accessibility of unobservable benefits and third-party beneficiaries. Thus, socio-cultural cues that drive secondary elaborations to produce a sense of alignment, affinity and identification (Hall and du Gay 1996) with such targets (both benefits and beneficiaries) may facilitate adoption of advocated behaviors.

This presentation develops a synthesis of the recent memory, judgment and persuasion literatures from a socio-cultural perspective and focuses on identifying concepts and empirical findings that shw promise for addressing the complexities in designing effective social policy interventions. A specific effort is made to address related field-based testing and implementation issues.



Barbara E. Kahn

Mary Frances Luce

Wendy Moe

We will discuss what behavioral decision research (BDR) theories have to offer in thinking about consumer decisions in social marketing domains. To illustrate the paradigm, we will specifically address the issue of whether consumers choose to obtain diagnostic information to help make decisions in social marketing, e.g., medical or environmental, contexts.

The decision to obtain diagnostic information often involves short-term inhibitions that serve as barriers to taking actions mitigating long-term threats (e.g., home radon or mammogram testing may be delayed due to short-term fear of an unfavorable result). It has historically been the task of expert counselors, e.g., environmental engineers or medical professionals, to work with consumers to overcome these barriers. However, increased consumer responsibility for decisions, increased consumer access to information, and the proliferation of do-it-yourself consumer products are shifting this burden towards marketers and public policy advocates. The short-term barriers to obtaining diagnostic tests and the long-term benefits of these tests are often expressed in terms of non-commodity attributes such as levels of fear, embarrassment, or physical pain. Most BDR paradigms neglect the distinction between non-commodity attributes and more mundane attributes. For instance, the widespread use of the multiattribute utility model as a normative benchmark for behavior indicates that, given sufficient motivation to devote cognitive effort to a decision, consumers should complete direct trade-offs between future benefits (e.g., expected long-term survival rates) and short-term costs (e.g., money spent on a home radon test or the physical pain of a medical test). However, some recent BDR work notes that decision makers are often resistant to trading off non-commodity attributes in particular (e.g., Baron and Spranca 1996; Irwin 1994).

An increased understanding of consumers’ willingness to trade-off various classes of attributes may allow public policy advocates to move from simple communications promising long-term benefits towards social exchanges presenting short- and long-term barriers and benefits in a manner that allows this information to be comfortably integrated by consumers. Thus, while applying current BDR models to the public policy domain illuminates some of these models’ shortcomings, more recent BDR advances, such as work identifying the sensitivity of consumer heuristics to attribute characteristics, are increasing these models’ application to social exchange and public policy domains.

We will illustrate some of these points by discussing an experiment using conjoint methodology to assess subjects’ willingness to take diagnostic medical tests. For instance, our subjects are similarly sensitive to the pain of a diagnostic test regardless of whether later (potential) medical treatment is described as painful; however, our subjects are less sensitive to the monetary expense of a test when treatment is painful than when it is not. Thus, the degree to which test costs are traded off against the pain of later treatment appears to depend on whether test costs are defined in terms of pain or money. We are in the process of an experiment addressing whether the order of attribute presentation alters consumers’ willingness to complete such trade-offs.



Kevin Lane Keller

The concept of brand equity and the resulting guidelines as to how to build, measure, and manage brand equity have had significant impact in academic and industry circles in recent years. As the principles have become more widely embraced, new applications have emerged. The purpose of this paper is to outline several important branding concepts and principles and consider what insights are gained from their application to social marketing.

In a fundamental sense, branding involves attaching a "label" (for identification) and "meaning" (for understanding) to a product, service, person, idea, etc. The resulting meaning imbued in brands can be quite profound. The relationship between a brand and the consumer can be seen as a type of "bond" or "pact." Consumers offer their trust and loyalty with the implicit understanding that the brand will "behave" in certain ways. To the extent that consumers realize advantages and benefits from purchase and as long as they derive satisfaction from consumption, consumers are likely to continue to buy the brand. These benefits may not be purely functional in nature. Brands can serve as symbolic devices, allowing consumers to project their self-image. Certain brands are associated with being used by certain types of people and thus reflect different values or traits. Consuming such products is a means by which consumers can communicate to othersCor even to themselvesCthe type of person they are or would like to be.

In a social marketing context, the issue becomes what labels and meaning to connect to positive or desired, as well as negative or undesired, behaviors. For example, the word "sober" may be used to describe a series of positive behaviors, and meaning may be attached to it by identifying some relevant benefits. Creating brand equity for a set of positive desired behaviors may involve defining the behaviors in terms of carefully selected words or phrases and then making sure that individuals can "feel good" about doing the "right thing" by understanding and appreciating the benefits they accrue. One challenge to branding social marketing is how to ensure that individuals properly value the immediate benefits of desirable behaviors, i.e., feel part of an exchange. This may involve creating "sub-brands" to better identify and communicate the benefits involved. Another challenge is to choose words or phrases that provide the proper connotations (as opposed to the problems encountered with phrases such as "Just Say No"). Similar issues emerge in branding negative behaviors where the allure of certain behaviors (e.g., feeling cool by smoking) provides intangible social benefits that supersede more tangible physical benefits.

To illustrate, the paper applies these concepts to several social marketing issues, e.g., drug abuse and "safe sex." The paper concludes by identifying future research priorities in the study of social marketing from a brand equity perspective.



Douglas M. Stayman

This paper examines the role of cognitive appraisals and resulting coping mechanisms in influencing emotional responses and subsequent behavior (cf. Frijda 1993). The paper identifies three areas from the appraisal/coping approach to emotions where research can potentially help identify new insights regarding worthwhile social marketing interventions. Potential research insights are given in two applications, drinking and driving and Halloween related teen pranks.

The first area is cognitive appraisals, the appraisals of the congruence of the demands of a given situation with personal goals and resources. An example from drinking and driving would be to shift 'hope’ of getting home safely to 'fear’ of potential consequences of impaired driving. An appraisal approach would suggest examining not only shifting appraisals from positive goals to negative threats, but also in shifting atention toward the effort anticipated to be needed to reach a successful conclusion (Smith and Ellsworth 1987).

The second area is coping processes. These are the ways that either the situation itself or the individuals construal of the situation can be changed to alter the personal relevance of the situation. For example, in trying to alter teen pranks, either alternative activities (ways to positively alter the situation itself) or salience of negative family attitudes towards the activity (making more difficult positive construals of the situation) may impact relevant emotions (e.g., from a focus on pride within a peer group to shame in response to others).

The third area is appropriate changes needed in the social environment. As Kemper (1984) has discussed, the appraisals and coping mechanisms underlying many emotions are in response to feedback in the social environment. Many social problems, such as those of dependence, are related to attempts to cope with emotions such as stress and anxiety. Emotions such as stress and anxiety are often determined by ways individuals perceive (appraise) and cope with their social environment. If society is to 'market’ the 'benefits’ of change in behaviors, then it must take into account the appropriate social reinforcement necessary for positive emotional outcomes based on changes in the appraisals and subsequent coping mechanisms used. It may not be possible to remove causes of stress and anxiety, but it may be possible to understand ways to change the ways in which individuals cope with these emotions by changing the way different coping mechanisms are reinforced by persons close to the individual.



Craig Thompson

Hermeneutic interpretations of consumption phenomena involve two levels of analysis (Thompson 1996). The first is an emic account that explicates the personal meanings that an object or activity holds for a given consumer and the relationship of these consumption meanings to his/her sense of self-identity. The second is an etic account that highlights the cultural and historical conditions that underlie these emic meanings and self-conceptions. The etic constructs also provide a framework for organizing the patterns of similarity and points of distinction that exist across different consumers.

As applied to social marketing, a hermeneutic approach would first emphasize the marketing aspects of this concept. That is, social marketing programs should be based on a customer-centered orientation that takes into account the meanings and identity constituting properties afforded by the behaviors in question and the cultural conditions that reinforce those consumer perceptions. From this view, symbolic meanings are fundamental to the exchange that occurs between social marketers and the targeted consumer groups. Social marketing is then an effort to transform the patterns of meaning that motivate problematic behaviors or, conversely, that discourage more beneficial ones.

The need for social marketing to be grounded in a hermeneutic understanding of consumer meanings can be explained via four constructs: 1) perception of benefits; 2) consumer resistance; 3) countervailing consequences and 4) countervailing socio-cultural forces.

Perceptions of benefits: From a hermeneutic perspective, consumer utilities or benefits are not intrinsic to a product, service, or consumption experience. Rather they emerge from the meanings that consumers attribute to these "goods" and, relatedly, the role that these attributed meanings play in the construction of one’s self identity. Stated in other words, social marketing campaigns need to address the meanings and identity relations that inspire problematic consumption behaviors and, conversely, to understand what alternative meanings would resonate with consumers in ways that could motivate a desired behavioral change. These meaning-based issues would need to be incorporate into the basic conditions of echange.

Consumer Resistance: Why don’t consumers behave in the ways that social marketers tell them to? The very statement of the question reveals the answer. Historically, top-down approaches to social change have been met with considerable resistance on the part of consumers. In a number of historically documented cases, this resistance reflected that consumers’ often had a more informed understanding of their circumstances and best interests than did the supposed experts. Historic examples demonstrate the need for social marketers to thoroughly understand the cultural and psychological conditions that underlie consumer resistance.

Countervailing Consequences: As suggested by the previous point, a hermeneutic orientation emphasizes that social marketers should not assume that their way of viewing the world corresponds to the viewpoints held by the target population. This fairly obvious (but all too easily ignored) point harbors a more subtle implication. A given social marketing strategy could be interpreted by the target population in ways that give rise to a countervailing consequence. Thus, a campaign that marketers think might discourage a behavior could actually increase its attraction and desirability. As a simple example, Celsi, Rose and Leigh (1993) propose that status in high risk consumption subculturesChere they are talking about skydiversCin-group status and perceptions of self-efficacy is tied to the successful management of dangerous circumstances. Thus, high status members of the subculture are those who can perform riskier sky diving maneuvers. If this relation between risk and social status holds for other types of high risk consumption (such as teenage drinking, gambling), promotions that emphasize the danger/risk inherent in these activities (and show their horrific consequences to specific individuals) could actually serve to increase their attractiveness and status building potential.

Countervailing Socio-cultural Forces: This construct highlights that social marketing actions do not arise in a competitive/societal vacuum. For social marketers, one of the most potent countervailing forces is the actions of for-profit marketers who explicitly or implicitly glamorize the products or behaviors at issue. While social marketing efforts regarding diet could function as an environmental threat to the processed food industry, the for-profit marketing promotions have adapted in ways that apparently have co-opted these social marketing efforts to their competitive advantage. By not understanding the socio-cultural context in which a social marketing program is undertaken (and the meaning systems consumers use to interpret these marketing messages and behavioral alternatives), the meanings/products offered by social marketers have been, in effect, repositioned in a way that is less amenable (or perhaps in opposition) to their intended vision of "the public good."

In sum, a hermeneutic view argues that a thorough understanding of consumer perceptions, life circumstances, and the complex of the marketing environment is needed not only to create resonate social marketing campaigns but to also ensure that social marketers do not inadvertently perpetuate the problem they are trying to solve. A hermeneutic research approach (see Arnold and Fischer 1994; Thompson, Pollio, and Locander 1994, Thompson 1996)Cutilizing depth interviews with consumers, close reading to ascertain emic themes in the textual, and cultural and historical analysis to situates these emic finding in a more generalized etic frameworkCoffers a systematic way to explicate these consumer meanings and socio-cultural factors.



Bart Weitz

A parallel exists between the objectives of social marketing and the emerging relationship marketing perspective toward sales and channel management issues. This relationship marketing perspective focuses on maximizing long-term benefits for both parties in the relationshi rather than striving to maximize short term benefits. In other words, the objectives of the parties from a relationship marketing perspective is to expand the size of the pie over the long-run rather than argue about how the present pie is divided between the parties. This perspective is similar to the view that the objective of social marketing is to convince consumers to focus on the long-term benefits for everyone by acting in a socially beneficial manner.

Three insights that might be gained from taking a relationship marketing perspective to social marketing are the need to convince the partners in the relationship (1) to take a long-term perspective, (2) that their actions will indeed expand the pie, and (3) that they will get a fair share of this expanded pie. Trust, a relationship marketing construct, is critical to the development of a long-term orientation and the willingness of the partners to make short sacrifices (investments) to achieve long-term goals. An example of the role of trust in social marketing is the unwillingness of people in the US to pay more taxes because they do not trust the government to use the increased revenues efficiently to solve societal problemsCa lack of confidence that engaging in socially responsible behaviors will expand the pie.