Every few weeks I see a blog, article or listserv discussion about the language of social marketing. And the most common complaint is that the word “marketing” gets in the way of social marketers doing their job effectively. I was teaching about projective techniques recently and it reminded me of the instant and strong reactions I’ve experienced to the word “marketing” from non-marketers:
Manipulative, unethical, inappropriate to our work, communications, postcards, selling, making people do things, selfish, spamming, hot air, etc. etc.
Among the politer responses is a bemusement about what it’s all about and a tendency to associate marketing with the physical evidence of adverts, news coverage, etc. And then the question arises, isn’t it the same as PR or advertising?
Among for-profit marketers, this negative brand is unhelpful, but at least the clients are business-oriented. When the clients are in the public sector, and possibly because they are disenchanted with commercial behaviour, this presents the social marketer with a huge problem – if the key stakeholders don’t accept marketing it can threaten the success of the project or at best, create delays while trust is built.
The choices in this situation seem to be: apologise for the word, as though it were the bad sheep of the family; use a different word altogether and pretend it doesn’t exist; or do try to change the client’s perception? My instinct is to go for the last option. I’m proud to be a marketer and of the power marketing has to change society for good or for bad. If social marketers turn their back on “marketing” then it will never realise its potential. Like a teenager who’s got into bad company, marketing has the potential to make a positive difference to the world, if it is supported, but if we give up on it, because it’s too challenging, then we only have ourselves to blame if the less scrupulous marketers sully its reputation.