Social marketing influences behaviors for the greater good. Unlike traditional marketing, campaigns promote beneficial ideas, behaviors, and social causes.

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Social Marketing


Famous for encouraging us to prevent wildfires, Smokey Bear serves as the poster child for social marketing. Millions have changed their habits because of campaigns that urged us to buckle up for safety, not let friends drive drunk, and get out to vote.

What is Social Marketing?

In Social Marketing Philip Kotler and Nancy Lee describe some characteristics of the practice:

  • Focus on behaviors
  • Behavior change is typically voluntary
  • Use of traditional marketing principals and techniques
  • Select and influence a target market
  • Primary beneficiary is society

And they tell of one creative campaign to convince residents around the Chesapeake Bay to change when they fertilize their yards. Lawn fertilizer runoff was devastating the bay’s ecosystem as residents fertilized in the spring when the heavy rains washed much of the chemicals into the bay. How could the social marketers get people to switch to the fall?

Social marketing to save a bay

The “Save the Crabs Then Eat ‘Em” campaign, led by the Academy for Educational Development, aimed to reduce nutrient pollution in the bay from residential sources near Washington D.C. Residents were encouraged to avoid fertilizing their lawns in the spring, when fertilizer runoff is most likely, and instead fertilize in the fall or not at all. They also wanted to persuade residents who hire lawn services to choose those who had signed on to the goals. The campaign framed the message as a way to ensure the availability of Chesapeake Bay seafood.

“Lawn care partners were a critical part of the strategy. Messages to fertilize in the fall would fail if there was no fertilizer available in the fall,” Kotler and Lee reported. So these companies were convinced to join up. Brochures, clever ads for both print and television, and a website were developed explaining the campaign and branding it as The Chesapeake Club to “create a sense of membership, participation, and practice of a behavior that is the accepted social norm…. Mass media messaging focused on ‘wait until fall to fertilize,’” say the authors. The Chesapeake Club reframed the issue as culinary, focusing on the iconic Blue Crab. They engaged with local lawn care companies, restaurants. and others to encourage the club’s clever “Save the Crabs. Then Eat ’Em” campaign. That slogan was printed on drink coasters, as Kotler and Lee describe:

…and distributed without charge to local seafood restaurants to use and hand out to patrons. The coasters sported the “fertilize in the fall” message on the back, and waitstaff were informed regarding the purpose of the campaign and why fall fertilizing is more environmentally sound. In this way, restaurants also became partners in disseminating the campaign message and, as an extra incentive, were also promoted on the campaign website.

All of this took place alongside supporting media. The results? The campaign successfully increased awareness of harmful lawn care practices and reduced intent to fertilize in the spring.

This creative campaign uses Social Marketing to save the Chesapeake Bay. 6 min.

No crab should die this way!  30 sec.

Thought leader and author Nancy Lee explains “Social Marketing to Influence Public Behaviors.”  43 min.

What is Social Marketing? And where did it come from?”  5 min.

Social Marketing — Lee and Kotler

Social Marketing: Behavior Change for Social Good is the definitive guide for impactful campaigns, offering a proven 10 Step Strategic Social Marketing Planning Model and addressing pressing social problems with expanded social media coverage.

Related Portals

marketing for social change

Smokey Bear: Social Marketing for our Forests

The Smokey Bear Wildfire Prevention campaign is the longest-running public service advertising campaign in U.S. history. In 1944 Smokey Bear began teaching generations of Americans about their role in preventing wildfires.

Smokey’s original catchphrase was “Smokey Says – Care Will Prevent 9 out of 10 Forest Fires”. The Smokey Bear Act, passed by Congress in 1952, has governed the Smokey Bear campaign for more than half a century. Today Smoky tells us “Only you can prevent wildfires.” The successful campaign has cut the number of human-caused wildfires in the United States.