Social Marketing Evidence Base

Social Marketing Can Make People Healthier:

The Evidence That Social Marketing Works

What is Social Marketing?

A strategy that uses marketing concepts — product design, appropriate pricing, sales and distribution, and communications — to influence behaviors that benefit individuals and communities for the greater good.1 Social marketing programs sell subsidized products through commercial sector outlets like pharmacies, distribute products for free, deliver health services through social franchises, and promote behaviors not dependent upon a product or service, like hand washing.

Download an infographic of The Social Marketing Evidence Base (PDF) | Spanish Version | French Version

How Does Social Marketing Lead to Better Health?

  • Social Marketing Program
  • Program Exposure
  • Behavioral Factors
  • Behavior
  • Health Outcomes
Social marketing can bring changes in

What Does This Mean For You?

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    Social marketing can make people healthier

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    Successful social marketing programs seek insight into their consumers and the market and target segments of the population most likely to change

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    Effective approaches, like condom social marketing and social franchising of health services, should be replicated and scaled up

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    More social marketing evaluations are needed to fill gaps in the evidence

How Do We Know If Social Marketing Makes People Healthier?

In response to questions about the effectiveness of social marketing in global health, we systematically reviewed all literature published between 1995 and 2013 on social marketing for HIV, reproductive health, malaria, child survival, and tuberculosis in developing countries.2 After reviewing more than 6500 studies, we found 109 studies looking at whether social marketing makes people healthier. Here's what these studies tell us about what social marketing programs can achieve.

Behavioral Factors
  • HIV

    20 Studies: Increases in risk perception, knowledge, and self-efficacy about HIV/AIDS

  • Reproductive Health

    10 Studies: Positive changes in social norms and attitudes about modern contraception and family planning

  • Malaria

    20 Studies: 18-40% increases in insecticide-treated bednet ownership. Free distribution may outperform social marketing in increasing coverage

  • Child Survival

    21 Studies: Improvements in knowledge and attitudes about water treatment, zinc treatment, vitamin supplements, and food fortifications

  • HIV

    18 Studies: Up to 100% increase in HIV condom use, 49% reduction in needle sharing, and increase in HIV testing. No effects for partner reduction

  • Reproductive Health

    13 Studies: Up to 55% increase RH in modern contraceptive use. Improvements in service utilization and quality of care

  • Malaria

    21 Studies: 15-40% increases for infant use of bednets. 20-40% increases for other populations. Three studies on malaria treatment

  • Child Survival

    28 Studies: Up to 25% increase in LD latrine use, 43% increase in chemically IVAL treating water. Increases in consumption of nutrient-rich and fortifed foods

  • Tuberculosis

    1 Study: 64% increase in sputum smear testing

Health Outcomes
  • HIV

    8 Studies: Reductions of up to 53% in HIV prevalence and 77% in STI prevalence, and 79% increase in STI cure rate

  • Reproductive Health

    1 Study: No difference in unplanned pregnancy found between treatment and control

  • Malaria

    10 Studies: Reductions in parasitemia, anemia, and child mortality

  • Child Survival

    11 Studies: 5% reduction in anemia, increases in serum retinol in women and children, statistically significant reduction in diarrhea

  • Tuberculosis

    2 Studies: 50% increase in TB case notification rate and 52% increase in new cases of smear positive pulmonary TB

The Social Marketing Evidence Base:

Compiling The Data

The Social Marketing Evidence Base is a resource that compiles evaluations of social marketing interventions by PSI, other NGOs, and academic institutions in the health areas where we work. To develop this resource, we completed these steps:

Read more about PSI’s methodology for the Social Marketing Evidence Base (PDF)

  • 16,532 Studies Gathered and Evaluated
  • 2Strength Of Evidence (SOE) Grading Criteria Were Applied To Each Study
  • 3Through A Rigorous Eligibility Review Process 109 Studies Showing Changes In Outcomes Ultimately Included
  • 4Each Eligible Study Was Then Assessed Using The 8 Social Marketing Benchmark Criteria

What Did We Find?

Here’s What Made It Into The Evidence Base:

Health Area # Studies
# Studies With SMBC Score
of 5 Or Higher (out of 8)
# Studies With SOE Score
of 4 Or Higher (out of 6)
Child Survival 37 21 27
HIV 27 15 16
Malaria 29 7 20
Reproductive Health 14 8 9
Tuberculosis 2 2 2


  1. Cheng, H., Kotler, P., & Lee, N.R. (2011). Social Marketing for Public Health: Global Trends and Success Stories, Sudbury,
    Massachusetts: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
  2. Higgins, J.P.T., Green, S. (2008). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions, West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons
  3. The National Social Marketing Centre (2010). Social Marketing Benchmark Criteria. Retrieved from

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