A societal marketing concept is a marketing initiative designed primarily to change the ideas or beliefs of a demographic. Organizations use societal marketing in order to help people develop better habits in their lives and change either themselves or their environment for the better. Fastening seat belts, recycling and reporting criminal activity are all common types of societal marketing messages. The organizations spreading these messages use classical marketing techniques to effect healthy change. This approach does have a downside.
In societal marketing, the message must be completely clear. This is often more difficult to do than in traditional marketing, where businesses are interested in getting customers to buy products by convincing customers of their value. Traditional marketers can use many different types of emotional tools to convince buyers to purchase products. Societal marketers, on the other hand, must convince the demographic that the activity will have an accumulated societal gain, which can be difficult for individuals to see and comes with no immediate gain.
Societal marketing is often undertaken by government organizations, but may also be used by businesses. Business societal marketing has its own unique problems, however. It is difficult to tell a business's true motivations. A company many want to improve its own image by appearing to care about the public good, a traditional marketing ploy in disguise. For instance, many companies have been accused of green-washing, or putting environmental messages on their products so consumers think they are making a difference by buying products which are actually unchanged from previous offerings.
The audience price in traditional marketing is how much money the market must literally pay for the product or service. In societal marketing, the price is different. People must often give up time, comfort or simply old habits in order to follow a societal marketing message. This can be very difficult for people to do, especially in combination with message clarity issues, since people may not understand the long-term benefit of the action unless it is fully explained. The audience price cannot be seen as too high, a difficult balance to strike in societal marketing.
In traditional marketing, large businesses often have millions of dollars to invest in marketing strategies. Marketing creates sales, which creates profit, so confident businesses can expect a return on this money. In societal marketing, the return is a better society with less crime, pollution or other ills, benefits not associated with monetary gain. As a result, societal marketing tends to operate on a very limited budget and may struggle to find funds.