Social Marketing Campaigns and Children's Media Use
From the journal The Future of Children, a collaboration of The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and The Brookings Institution, this article investigates United States-based social marketing campaigns in the electronic media. "Increasingly savvy social marketers have begun to make extensive use of the same techniques and strategies used by commercial marketers to promote healthful behaviors and to counter some of the negative effects of conventional media marketing to children and adolescents." The author points out that social marketing campaigns have been effective in helping to prevent and control tobacco use, increase physical activity, improve nutrition, and promote condom use, as well as other positive health behaviours. He reviews the evidence from a number of major recent campaigns and programming in the United States and overseas and describes the evaluation and research methods used to determine their effectiveness.
The author notes some potential future applications to promote media use by children and adolescents that result in healthy behaviours and to mitigate the effects of exposure to commercial marketing. "These include adapting lessons learned from previous successful campaigns, such as delivering branded messages that promote healthful alternative behaviours. He also outlines a message strategy to promote “smart media use” to parents, children, and adolescents and suggests a brand based on personal interaction as a desirable alternative to "virtual interaction.'"
The author points out that, due to an inequality in funding, commercial marketers "outweigh" their counterparts in social marketing, but through the following three strategies, social marketers can try to maintain an audience share:
- develop more socially powerful and persuasive competing messages;
- use multiple channels including media, community outreach, and mobilisation and develop social movements; and
- focus on social and health policies that affect individual behaviour and behavioural determinants.
He uses the example of tobacco counter marketing campaigns like "truth", which have "developed innovative public health brands and created messages based on an adolescent "consumer" orientation. At the same time, truth engaged communities and advocated for state and national tobacco policy changes, such as clean indoor air laws and cigarette tax increases."
He recommends that: "Future efforts to limit children's media use should draw on lessons learned from past efforts: know the audience and target messages appropriately; use creative marketing and promotional strategies such as branding healthful lifestyle choices; use multiple channels to increase exposure; and address public policy in addition to individual behavior.... For pre-adolescent children, parents are a powerful social influence and have substantial opportunities to limit media use and marketing exposure. Social marketers should conduct formative research with parents to understand the home and family media environment and parents' role in regulating children's media use....The overarching goal would be to change the social norm about media use from one of permissiveness to one of parental involvement and management of the home and family media environment....
[S]eparate formative research should be conducted on [adolescent and young adult] knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and practices related to media use and how they use their time with media, including television, music, and new media, as compared with other pursuits. The goal of this campaign would be to brand limited media use as socially desirable, as the new, hip, and cool way to live....Messages would be aimed at changing social norms about media use, raising consciousness of the limitations of media-multitasking, and increasing awareness of the value of interpersonal interaction in balance with human-media interaction."
The author cites 5 new media-related social marketing strategies under development:
- improved audience segmentation - for example, social marketers can use market research data to identify more refined behavioural predictors and related message strategies.
- tailored messages for very specific groups, such as adolescents who visit certain websites.
- co-branding - linking branded messages to other trusted brands, such as by co-branding a nutrition social marketing message with the Sesame Workshop.
- full use of technology - the internet, handheld devices, and other media offer social marketers opportunities to compete with industry using low-cost word-of-mouth marketing - so-called viral marketing.
- social networking - social marketers can place messages in media used by children and adolescents to network and take advantage of potential social diffusion effects (for example, through MySpace, Facebook, and iPods).
The Future of Children Journal website Vol. 18, No. 1, Spring 2008.