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Ready To Fly Solo? Reducing Social Marketing’s Dependence On Commercial Marketing Theory

Sue Peattie, Ken Peattie

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The past development of social marketing theory and practice has been based largely on the translation of ideas and practices from conventional, commercial marketing. The application of a customer orientation and conventional marketing techniques has often successfully revolutionized the pursuit of social goals and has led to the growing popularity of social marketing. There is, however, a danger that an over-emphasis on the direct translation of mainstream marketing principles and practices into social contexts may create practical problems and also confusion regarding the theoretical basis of social marketing. This paper provides a critique of the development of social marketing theory and its reliance on mainstream commercial marketing. It argues that social marketing’s future development may depend upon a better understanding of, and emphasis on, the differences between the social and commercial contexts. The paper concludes that social marketing needs the developmentof its own distinctive vocabulary, ideas and tools. To achieve this, there may beopportunities for theorists to follow the example of other marketing sub-disciplines, and also to reach back directly into the disciplines on which marketing is founded, including economics, psychology, sociology and communications theory, in search of new and better-adapted practices and theories to apply.