Social marketing is the use of commercial marketing techniques to help in acquisition of a behavior that is beneficial for health of a target population (Weinreich, 1999). In other words, it is a program planning process that promotes the voluntary behavior of target audiences by offering the benefits they want, reducing the barriers they are concerned about and using persuasion to motivate their participation in program activity (Kotler, & Roberto, 1989).
The difference between social marketing and commercial marketing lies in the fact that social marketing promotes products, ideas or services for a voluntary behavior change among target members whereas in commercial marketing, a product or a service is traded for economic gains and the marketeer is not concerned about any healthy behavior change in the target audience. The 'marketing philosophy' states that people tend to adopt new behavior or ideas if they feel that something of value is exchanged between them and the social marketeer (Solomon, 1989). In the field of health, some important applications of social marketing have been for family planning, recruiting blood donors, infant mortality reduction by oral rehydration, and smoking prevention in adolescents (Andreasen, & Kotler, 2003).
Social Marketing has been used in reducing alcohol use. Social marketing was used in the University of Wisconsin's binge drinking prevention program (Brower, Ceglarek, & Crowley, 2001). The primary target population for this program was defined as those students who did not binge in high school but began to do so as college freshmen. Research showed that 'binge drinking' was a brand regularly "purchased" by majority of the students to fulfill needs such as belongingness in new environment, to assert independence from their previous life at home, to blow of steam at the end of the study week and to be comfortable in social settings. Alternative products to compete with this 'binge drinking' behavior were put in the market such as alcohol--free dance clubs, movies, and recreational sports. Print ad campaigns for promoting students to join various student organizations on the campus were also an integral part of this social marketing campaign (Brower, Ceglarek, & Crowley, 2001).
Another study done, again for 'binge drinking' in Arizona, where the intervention used was a campus wide media campaign based on normative social influence model and focusing on normative messages regarding binge drinking showed a 29.2% decrease in 'binge drinking' rates over a three-year period (Glider, Midyett, Mills-Novoa, Johannessen, & Collins, 2001). These two studies paint a useful picture of social marketing usage in changing the campus culture and norms and making the desired healthy behavior change among college students. But the important question to be asked here is whether and how much these 'norm' changing campaigns do work in reality. Two studies which tried to evaluate the use of social marketing campaign, one at University of Mississippi (Gomberg, Schneider, & Dejong, 2001) and one at the Cornell University (Campo et al., 2003) suggested that a mixed response emerges to this argument. Some of the important issues emerging out are measurement issues as most studies rely on ordinal measures that limit data analyses. There are also fewer studies which use control groups. If we look at the problem of binge drinking in a different but adjacent country to the United States such as Canada, it is seen that the problem is present on a huge scale across the campuses there too. A process evaluation study which used focus groups as their elements of participant feedback came to a conclusion that high-school students and post-secondary students should be the target members to educate about risks associated with binge-drinking and the preferred media channels would be television, posters in bars, universities and colleges and internet banners on websites frequented by students (Jack, Sangster, Beynon, Ciliska & Lewis, 2005). …