National Social Marketing Centre

Social marketing examples

Applying social marketing principles leads to behaviour change projects that work, based on real insight into people's lives and motivations.

Implementation: child car seats

Social marketing enables you to develop products, services and communications that fit people’s needs and motivations. Child safety seat usage by Hispanic families in West Dallas was raised from just 19% to over 70% through a programme that properly understood parent's motivations. Read more...

Policy: water rationing

Social marketing helps to ensure policy is based on an understanding of people’s lives, making policy goals realistic and achievable. Research into how people used water, and where it was wasted, led to a focus on improving plumbing systems, rather than calling for individual action. Read more...

Strategy:  lung disease strategy

Social marketing enables you to target your resources cost-effectively, and select interventions that have the best impact over time. Carefully mapping out target groups and delivery partners allowed the Department for Health England to plan effective interventions with groups best placed to have an impact on the people most at risk. Read more...

Child car seats in Texas

In West Dallas, Texas, efforts to increase the use of child car seats and safety belts among the Hispanic population kept failing. Just 19 per cent of young Hispanic children were placed in car seats, compared to 62 per cent of children from other groups. This led the Injury Prevention Center of Greater Dallas (IPCGD) to try a new approach.

Research with the target audience revealed insights that enabled the IPCGD to greatly increase their programme’s effectiveness. As well as barriers such as lack of language skills to interpret safety information and lack of awareness of the law, they found that mothers had a fatalistic attitude towards road safety. They tended to believe that their children, and therefore their destinies, were ‘in God’s hands’, causing them to not appreciate the importance of child safety seats.

This led the programme developers to ask local priests to bless subsidised car seats before they were distributed to families. Alongside free traffic safety and child safety seat training workshops, community action with mothers and a police woman, and demonstration events, this helped the intervention to achieve impressive results. By 2000 (after just three years), car seat use rose to 72 per cent − outstripping use across the other communities combined by three per cent.

Notably, this approach did not work when the IPCGD applied it to the African American community. It was only effective for the Hispanic community, based on the unique insights from their particular circumstances. 

Water rationing in Jordan

Rationing was already in place before Jordan experienced a serious water shortage between 2000 and 2005. The government proposed laws to raise the price of water in order to reduce demand. They assumed that people were using too much water – but Jordanians already used it more sparingly than most other people in the world.

Research revealed some important insights. People tended to blame the lack of water on neighbouring countries, not Jordan’s rapidly growing population, industry and tourism. People also did not feel they should pay more for water if the government was not doing its bit − they did not see why they should bear a bigger burden on their already strained finances.

The government’s response took all these factors into account. A survey revealed the largest water consumers: mostly public buildings and private clubs, with some private residences. Water audits were conducted and a simple auditing tool was developed, highlighting weaknesses in how the government billed for water and providing information to help improve it.

The audits showed that the high consumption was mainly due to out-of-date, poorly installed plumbing – not to over-use. If £3 aerators were added to faucets, a building’s water bill would be reduced by 30 per cent.

The simple message that adding a cheap device to your faucet could save you money was therefore chosen and targeted at all consumers via trained volunteers. This approach had the added advantage of being straightforward to measure and monitor: buildings fitted with aerators should show cost savings of 30 per cent after one year, and sales of the devices should increase.

However, actually installing the devices was rather complicated. In order to keep people on side, the government redeveloped its policy, creating a new national plumbing code. This ensured all new buildings would be built with water conservation in mind. To inform it, a competition was launched to see if consumers could correctly identify their buildings’ requirements. Prizes such as computers, as well as colourful, lottery-style cards distributed by community volunteers, got people interested.

This imaginative approach to research and promotion delivered the information needed to develop the new code, and created a positive, engaging ‘buzz’ around the campaign.

Tackling lung disease

The Department of Health (DH) in England uses strategic social marketing thinking to tackle lung disease. Also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), it currently kills over 30,000 people every year. That’s a higher death rate than breast and prostate cancer combined − but most people have never heard of it.

The key to early prevention and treatment of lung disease is behaviour change among those affected or ‘at risk’. The strategy has a two-pronged goal: to reduce people’s risktaking activities and encourage them to take up more healthenhancing behaviours; or to recognise and act on the symptoms.

2.7 million people have the disease without knowing it, so the biggest challenge is how to achieve earlier diagnoses. Also, 75 per cent of cases are caused by smoking, a notoriously difficult behaviour to shift. Simply raising awareness would not be enough.

DH identified the ‘segments’ or groups of the population who are at risk, using insight and data to establish how best to design interventions for changing, adapting or sustaining individuals’ behaviour. This approach ensures that behaviour change activities fit tightly defined population segments and local needs.

The strategy’s segmentation model unusually grouped individuals into overlapping segments, based on their lifestage, social and environmental factors, job status and social group, and health motivation. These segments are then engaged by the individuals and organisations best placed to do so – depending on whether they have well-established communications channels, provide services to or are ‘trusted’ partners in the eyes of the particular segments.

The programme developed a quick reference risk model to help planners and commissioners understand how a ‘one size fits all’ approach would not work. As an individual progresses along the spectrum of risk, different interventions will be required in order to deliver different changes in behaviour.

The strategy recognises that the environment in which lung disease services are provided is complex. Understanding the different ‘drivers’ and motivations for providers and other partner organisations is as important as understanding those of target populations. Consequently, the strategy highlights a range of benefits for partners of early identification, including better patient self management, cost-reduction and efficiency

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Latest News & Events

30 March 2016

The NSMC Level 4 Social Marketing Award Course

We are currently planning the date of our next Level 4 Social Marketing Award. Keep on eye on our website for details of this course, or alternatively contact us directly and we will then let you know when the date has been organised.

The course is the only introduction to social marketing course accredited by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) and has been created from The NSMC's nine years' experience of delivering social marketing training courses with input from the accreditation unit at the CIM.

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12 April 2015

NSMC is commissioned by SNV Netherlands to evaluate a water and sanitation programme in Cambodia

The NSMC has just won a major contract with the Netherlands Development Organisation SNV to evaluate one of their major water and sanitation programmes in southern Cambodia.  The WASH programme is aiming to reduce the incidence of infectious diseases through a combination of institutional capacity building and behaviour change interventions.  The evaluation project will begin in late April and will be conducting both qualitative and quantitative research in the southern part of the country to evaluate the impact of the WASH programme on rural communities.

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23 February 2015

NSMC wins new project in Kent to develop a social marketing plan to reduce the number of expectant mothers who smoke

The NSMC has just been awarded a new project helping Kent County Council to develop a social marketing plan to reduce smoking rates in pregnant women.  We will be working over the next months to co-develop a behaviour change intervention that resonates with our target audience and helps them to quit smoking for good.  We will keep you informed of how this exciting project is developing throughout March and April. 

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18 March 2014

Guest blog - Best practice for research programmes by Rachel Cope of MRUK

With a trend towards social marketing increasingly being used to inform policy and development of strategy, the need for actionable research has never been more important.  Here, I outline best practice to ensure that your research programmes can be put into action.

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21 February 2014

The Chartered Institute of Marketing New Social Marketing Award


What do young people crossing railways safely, stopping smoking for October, voting for a country to join FIFA, not using accident and emergency services and enrolling more students on a course have in common?


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