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  • Writer's pictureVishal Gupta

Can Marketing Transform Society? Exploring the Societal Concept of Marketing

Updated: Feb 6

The societal concept of marketing is a holistic approach that intertwines ethical considerations, social responsibility, and cultural sensitivity into marketing strategies. It signifies a commitment to responsible and sustainable practices, with the ultimate goal of fostering a healthier, more prosperous society.



Can marketing go beyond just selling products and actually contribute to the greater good of individuals and society? The answer is yes with social marketing, a powerful approach

Societal Concept of Marketing

combining concepts from commercial marketing and the social sciences. The societal concept of marketing is more than just a strategy, it's a proven tool for influencing behavior in a way that is not only sustainable but also cost-effective.

Let’s uncover how the societal marketing concept places the onus on organizations to not only understand the needs and wants of their target market but also to deliver satisfactions that enhance the well-being of both the individual consumer and society as a whole. Get ready for a deep dive into the realms where marketing meets societal impact.

Table of Content 

Defining the Societal Concept of Marketing

When it comes to marketing, we cannot do without mentioning Philip Kotler, a distinguished professor at the Kellogg School of International Marketing (1962-2018). In his 1972 article "What Consumerism Means for Marketers" for the Harvard Business Review introduced the societal marketing concept to the marketing literature.

His explanation of the concept "The societal marketing concept holds that the organization's task is to determine the wants, needs, and target market's interests and to deliver the desired satisfaction more efficiently and effectively than competitors in a way that preserves or enhances the consumer's and society's well-being."

Andreas Kaplan calls it societal management and defines it as "management that takes into account society's overall welfare in addition to mere profitability considerations.”

In essence, the societal concept of marketing embodies a holistic approach that goes beyond profit-driven motives to prioritize the greater good of individuals and society. It serves as a framework for businesses to engage in responsible and sustainable marketing practices, ultimately contributing to a healthier and more prosperous society.

Evolution of the Societal Concept of Marketing

Social marketing, born from a psychologist's visionary idea in the 1950s, has evolved into a powerful force, influencing societal behaviors for the greater good. This concise overview takes you on a journey through the key milestones that mark the evolution of social marketing from its inception to the 21st century.

Timeline in a Nutshell:

  • 1950s: Concept emerges to apply for-profit marketing techniques to enhance non-profit success.

  • 1960s: Marketing principles integrated into international development programs lay the groundwork.

  • 1970s: Formal launch faces controversies but gains traction, particularly in developing countries.

  • 1980s: Identity search resolves, marking acceptance and the release of the first social marketing textbook.

  • 1990s: Focus on behavioral change, establishment of the Social Marketing Quarterly journal, and theoretical contributions.

  • 2000s: Global establishment, adoption by international agencies, and ongoing academic debates.

  • 21st Century: Web 2.0 transforms social marketing, emphasizing online engagement's role in societal behavior change.

From its humble beginnings, social marketing has evolved into a global force, contributing to positive change in diverse fields and continuously adapting to the challenges and opportunities presented by evolving communication technologies.

Principles of the Societal Concept of Marketing

A shift towards societal marketing principles is underway, reshaping the way companies interact with their audiences and communities. Through four key principles - long-term social welfare, ethical considerations, social responsibility, and cultural sensitivity - businesses are forging a new path towards responsible and sustainable practices.

Long-Term Societal Welfare

A principle that's not just about quick wins. It's about making a lasting positive impact on individuals and society. This approach looks beyond short-term success and focuses on strategies that contribute to the ongoing well-being of communities.

Think about what Adam Smith said in "The Wealth of Nations": "We don't expect our dinner from the butcher, brewer, or baker's kindness, but from their focus on their own interests."

This suggests that businesses, by pursuing their interests, unintentionally contribute to societal welfare. The social concept of marketing is about businesses aligning their interests with the needs of society for long-term mutual benefit.

Take Patagonia, for example, a famous outdoor clothing company. They're all about environmental sustainability and actively support conservation efforts. This goes beyond just making money; it's a commitment to doing good.

The long-term societal welfare in the social concept of marketing isn't just a clever strategy – it's an ethical approach. It acknowledges that businesses can thrive and be forces for good when they prioritize the well-being of people and society over time.

Ethical Considerations

Ethical considerations in the social concept of marketing are foundational to responsible and sustainable business practices. This principle emphasizes the importance of conducting marketing activities with integrity, honesty, and a commitment to ethical standards. By prioritizing ethical considerations, businesses aim to build trust with consumers, foster positive relationships, and contribute to the overall well-being of both individuals and society.

"Ethics must begin at the top of an organization. It is a leadership issue, and the chief executive must set the example." - Edward Hennessy

Edward Hennessy highlights the role of leadership in setting ethical standards within an organization. Ethical considerations need to be embedded in the corporate culture from the top down.

Truthful advertising, fair labor practices, and privacy protection are some of the considerations within the social concept of marketing. It forms the moral compass that guides businesses toward responsible decision-making. By adhering to ethical standards, businesses not only build a positive reputation but also contribute to the overall well-being of individuals and society.

Social Responsibility

Unilever's Sustainable Living Plan stands as a tangible example of social responsibility in action. This commitment goes beyond lip service, addressing pressing environmental concerns. Unilever pledges to reduce its environmental footprint and enhance social impacts throughout its supply chain.

In the social concept of marketing, social responsibility isn't confined to profit-driven motives. By embracing social responsibility, businesses step into the role of active contributors to societal well-being, playing a crucial part in shaping a future that is not only sustainable but also inclusive.

Seth Godin's perspective echoes this sentiment: "The power of a brand is its ability to influence behavior. That's a privilege and a responsibility." The dual nature of branding, as Godin highlights, is both a privilege and a responsibility. Social responsibility isn't an add-on; it's an integral part of a brand's influence on consumer behavior.

The principle isn't just a suggestion; it's a firm commitment to ethical behavior, community well-being, and environmental sustainability. By weaving social responsibility into their marketing strategies, businesses aspire to create a positive impact that extends beyond profit, aligning their actions with the needs and values of society.

Cultural Sensitivity

Robert Alan's words resonate deeply: "Cultural differences should not separate us from each other, but rather cultural diversity brings a collective strength that can benefit all of humanity." Alan's insight highlights the immense value of cultural diversity, showcasing how embracing these differences can be a unifying force that enriches society as a whole.

Nike provides a compelling example of cultural sensitivity in action. Their approach involves crafting localized marketing campaigns that capture the specific cultural nuances of different regions. By doing so, it ensures that their messages are not only relatable but also respectful of diverse cultural identities.

Cultural sensitivity within the social concept of marketing embodies a celebration of diversity. It is about recognizing the inherent strength found in cultural differences and leveraging them to create inclusive and impactful marketing campaigns. A commitment to honoring and embracing diversity in all its forms.


Benefits to Businesses

By embracing the principles of societal marketing, which extend beyond immediate gains and focus on the long-term welfare of society, businesses stand to gain a myriad of benefits.

The advantages of societal marketing are far-reaching:

  • Favorable Company Image: Societal marketing contributes to or establishes a positive image for your company, emphasizing a commitment to the greater good.

  • Competitive Advantage: Prioritizing social welfare provides your company with a competitive edge, positioning it above competitors and facilitating market share expansion.

  • Customer Relationship Building: Embracing societal marketing fosters robust customer relationships, laying the foundation for long-term customer retention.

  • Trust and Credibility: Aligning internal policies and external marketing with social welfare priorities builds trust and credibility among stakeholders.

  • Long-Term Business Growth: The incorporation of societal marketing principles sets the stage for sustained business growth and long-term expansion.

  • Efficient Resource Utilization: Companies adopting societal marketing strategies utilize economic resources more efficiently, ensuring a positive impact on both their bottom line and society.

Above all, companies that integrate the societal marketing concept into their strategies, providing goods and services that benefit society, are poised to build profitable, long-term relationships with existing customers and attract new ones.

In The End for A Better Tomorrow…

The principles of societal marketing emerge as a compass guiding organizations towards a future where success is not measured solely by profit margins but by the positive impact on individuals and society. The journey into societal marketing encompasses a holistic approach, weaving together long-term societal welfare, ethical considerations, social responsibility, and cultural sensitivity.

From the words of Adam Smith, Seth Godin, and Robert Alan to the tangible examples of Patagonia, Unilever, and Nike, the narrative of societal marketing unfolds as a collective effort. It's a journey where businesses, driven by ethical considerations and a sense of social responsibility, become active contributors to societal well-being.

The integration of societal marketing into business strategies is not just about profit, it's about building lasting relationships, fostering inclusivity, and shaping a future that is not only sustainable but also socially and culturally rich. As more and more organizations embrace these principles, they embark on a path where success is intertwined with the positive transformation of the world around them. Navigating societal marketing is not just a journey for businesses, it's a commitment to creating a better tomorrow for everyone.


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