Population Services International

Why Social Marketing?

STEVEN CHAPMAN: What is a total market approach in social marketing?

RICHARD POLLARD: It looks at the total market in any given country – in our case, the market primarily for health products and services. A market has two sides: the demand side, where the consumer is, and the supply side. In commercial marketing, suppliers are very clever at finding groups of consumers with various needs, wants and expectations and offering to them brands, packaging and so forth, that appeal to each of these groups. In social marketing for health in the developing world, we often realize that there is no “market” in this sense. The market is simply driven by the separate capacities of each sector in the supply side to do what it can in its own way. Governments and donors then subsidize elements of supply, which distorts the market. With the total market approach, we recognize the need to understand all these aspects of a distorted market and how we can shift toward demand-driven approaches rather than supply-driven approaches. There are many complex issues involved in looking at the whole market, and we need people who can do that. Social marketing professionals and the social marketing field is a very good place to start.

SC: What metrics are used to define whether social marketing is pursuing a total market approach successfully?

RP: The first metric looks at subsidies. The markets we are dealing with are primarily distorted by the level of subsidies being given either through the public sector, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), social marketing or even subsidies given to the commercial sector. We need to find a better way to target subsidies and establish programs that move consumers away from subsidized products so that we open up a dynamic market for the commercial sector to exploit at mass-market prices. The most important factor to track is whether subsidies are properly allocated.

SC: Many social marketing projects are managed by NGOs. Should these NGOs help grow commercial market share? Should these NGOs sell products for a profit?

RP: This is an interesting subject that comes back to the issue of distorted markets. There’s no reason why a social marketing organization shouldn’t, for example, have its own brands and therefore sell its own products. But is that subsidy being well allocated? Are they being well placed? At the same time, the social marketing organizations are under pressure to cross-subsidize. There’s an argument that says if we’re really going to implement the total market approach, then we need to look at these issues within this broader context.

SC: In your view, what is the best way to organize a social marketing program based on a total market approach?

RP: It’s a matter of what our social marketing programs are for. If we go back historically, donors want you to come out with low-priced products and are funding you to do that. We will judge your success based on the number of commodities that you manage to sell. Now that’s quite a reasonable strategy, but again it’s a strategy that needs to mature. And why does it need to mature? It needs to mature because we’re seeing today a remarkable growth in economic development in many countries and thus higher demand that is often met through subsidies, and we can't sustain that approach any more.

I see social marketing expertise as the core expertise that is needed to develop total market approaches. We place less of an emphasis on segmented approaches to program management and funding but more of an emphasis on national, total market approaches, especially with the emphasis on Millennium Development Goals. And as the future of social marketing and social marketing management includes providing the sources to evaluate and even manage total market approaches, I think donor interest in social marketing will increase rapidly. But again, we’ve got to be careful that we don’t come up with strategies that are actually distorting the market even more.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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