Social Marketing. Health and Social Care: Ignore this Tool at your Peril!

One way of health promotion is to develop a campaign that seeks to address the population as a whole or total. Change for Life would fit under this generalist approach.

Another effective approach or option is social marketing which is a more sensitive and accurate methodology that uses the latest thinking in marketing segmentation for targeted health engagement.



An example might be helpful. Jedele & Ismail (2010) report the following social marketing campaign evaluation. They were interested in two things:-

  1. Raising awareness of and
  2. Screening for oral cancer.

And given this was a social marketing campaign in specific segments of the total population, namely African-Americans in this case as this segmentation were a high-risk group in the Detroit/Wayne County Michigan area.

The programme benefits were:-

  • Citizen engagement at this segment level
  • Reduce the death rate
  • Improved detection rate earlier in the pathway
  • Increased screening rates at years 1, 2 and then 3.

The social marketing campaign costs were calculated per individual. What is important to understand is that the ways by which the campaign was designed, developed and implemented was participatory. Stated simply they spoke for themselves.

During the campaign:-

  • 1,327 radio spots were aired
  • 42 billboards displayed
  • 2 excellent Newspaper adverts were placed in papers read by that segmentation
  • 242 educational sessions were completed
  • The hotline (manned by African-Americans) received a stunning 1,783 calls
  • Interestingly 67% of the hotline callers stated that their call was prompted by the radio advertisement


The clinic screened 1020 adults with a total cost of $ 795, 898 which is some $ 783 per patient (directly screened) as there would be wider systemic benefits for raising awareness too. The outcomes were reported as:

  • 3 cancers detected (early stage detection)
  • 2 pre-cancers
  • 12 tumours detected

This is one example of an effective social marketing campaign. There are others from a community-based stroke preparedness intervention (see Boden-Albala et al., 2014).

And, in terms of emergency care flows a neat study from McGuigan & Watson (2010) looked at the beliefs, concerns and factors influencing patients decisions to attend their local emergency department (ED). They unpacked all the segmentation data and rightly concluded that:

A targeted social marketing campaign is needed to address the misconceptions of people who present at EDs” (p. 34).

This latter inquiry reminds me of a campaign at Barnsley that a colleague completed. This insight data-driven inquiry looked at attendance rates spikes and trends at the local ED. She led a team that developed an innovative campaign that addressed specifically young girls aged between 16-24 and then, very specifically, ‘binge-drinking on a Friday night’. The insights from the intelligence led to a successful campaign for this particular segment or group and thus reduced both attendance as well as admission rates for this group.

To meet rising demands and associated costs on health and social care I’d suggest social marketing is an essential tool.


Boden-Albala et al (2014). Methodology for a Community-Based Stroke Preparedness Intervention. Stroke.

Jedele & Ismail (2010). Evaluation of a multifaceted social marketing campaign to increase awareness of and screening for oral cancer in African-Americans. Community Dental Oral Epidemiology, 38: 371-382

McGuigan & Watson (2010). Non-urgent Attendance at Emergency Departments. Emergency Nurse, Vol 18 (6), 34-38.

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