Commercial vs Social – What’s the Difference?
I often get asked what is the main difference between Social Marketing and Commercial marketing – or indeed if there is any difference. Of course, this is understandable, not least because after all we are using fairly similar tools (and theories in some cases). However, I’d argue that the main difference is probably in the starting point. Consider the basic definition of Marketing as a “social and managerial process by which individuals and groups obtain what they need and want through creating and exchanging products and values with others.” (Kotler et al, Principles of Marketing). One of the main points for commercial marketing is the creation and exchange of products that people want and need, for social marketing while that may be true in the long run, it may not be so in the short term. Take the example of healthy food choices: While it may be true for some people that they do prefer a piece of fruit, many more people are likely to prefer unhealthy food choices (chocolate anyone?). For commercial marketers, the main objective is to find out which people want the healthy food and supply them with apples, bananas and grapes – while also supplying and exchanging unhealthy food with the people who want it. In that sense, commercial marketing is pretty value free – it delivers what people want, when they want it (and without starting a discussion about the ethics of such an approach), does not really make a judgement if that is good or bad.
Social marketing is pretty different: In social marketing we would be actively trying to convince those people that want unhealthy food to switch to healthy food (and we would probably not be too concerned about those that already eat healthily). Thus, our target is very, very different (and yes, we are making a judgment call, i.e. that there is such a thing as desired behaviour as well as undesirable behaviour). This also explains why in many ways it is a lot easier to be a commercial marketeer: after all commercial marketing is a little like running in open doors (or delivering what someone wants when they want it in the way they want it) – while social marketing really is about convincing someone that a particular behaviour is bad/unhealthy/undesirable and to do something that he/she may not originally want to do.