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Explaining Product Related Issues in Social Marketing

Updated on June 15, 2014
Social marketing is about changing behavior, even in a global context.
Social marketing is about changing behavior, even in a global context. | Source

What is Social Marketing?

What is social marketing? Social marketing sells a change in behavior towards a social issue and not commercial goods or services. Many non profit businesses adopt social marketing techniques to solve social issues that are significant to society. Social marketing over the years has become an important marketing approach and uses the same four Ps in its marketing mix, namely product, price, place and promotion and attempts to solve a social issue by getting people to feel differently about it.

Social Marketing and the four Ps

Over the years other social marketing theorists have also added more Ps to the traditional marketing mix to better fit the unique needs of social marketing. Others argue that there cannot be a product in social marketing. Keeping this in mind what is the product when it comes to social marketing? How can there be a product in social marketing? After reading much about the topic, I support the marketing theorist Kotler's perspective that that there is a product in social marketing, even though it is intangible and produced by the customer.

The product in social marketing is the public’s sought after behaviour towards a particular social issue. I have always appreciated the marketing expert, Kotler's proposed levels of the product to explain how it differs from the product in commercial marketing. Kotler explains the product in social marketing as consisting of three levels namely the “core product, the actual product and the improved product”. What do these levels mean for the social marketer?

Core product: This product level refers to benefits in adopting a new behaviour. By changing behaviour certain benefits become available, for instance, by not drinking while driving will decrease accidents during holiday seasons.

Actual product: This level refers to specific behaviour that should be adopted, for instance, do not drink while driving. Social marketers promote the actual product in social marketing campaigns.

Improved product: This level refers to a behavioural change which is facilitated by an additional service or product which is also promoted by the social marketer. For instance, the consumer can use a device to test whether he or she is over the drinking limit or not.

The arguments proposing a product in social marketing are still contested and continously debated. It is, however, evident that the product in social marketing is much more complex than in other types of marketing.


Kotler, P. 2000. Marketing management. New Jersey: Upper Saddle River.

Lee, NR & Kotler, P. 2009. ‘Ending poverty: “what social marketing got to do with it?”’. Social Marketing Quarterly 15 (4): 134-140.


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