Social Marketing Campaigns


Social marketing campaigns use techniques adapted from commercial marketing to encourage favorable and voluntary behavior change.


To influence community attitudes, norms, and behaviors regarding the nonmedical use of prescription drugs (NMUPD).

Typical Elements

  • The first step of a social marketing campaign is to conduct a comprehensive assessment of local prevention needs and capacity, in order to identify the following (Gabriel et al., 2008; Grier & Bryant, 2005; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA], 2001; Work Group for Community Health and Development, 2014):
    • The specific problem you intend to address in your community
      • Note: For example: What NMUPD problems and behaviors are occurring? How often? Where? How do youth obtain prescription drugs for nonmedical use? What risk and protective factors contribute to this problem?
    • The segment of the population you intend to reach and influence through social marketing (the focus population)
      • Note: Who is most affected by the problem? Most likely to change their behavior? Most feasible to reach? The goal is to reach the subsets of individuals who engage in high levels of risky behavior and/or who share lifestyles, behaviors, and values that make them likely to respond similarly to an intervention (Forthofer & Bryant, 2000). Be specific when defining these demographics. This segmentation will help campaigns determine effective communication and distribution strategies for key social marketing messages.
  • The next step is to conduct audience research on the following (Grier & Bryant, 2005; Lefebvre & Flora, 1988; NHTSA, 2001; Work Group for Community Health and Development, 2014):
    • Perceived benefits of NMUPD and related behaviors
    • Perceived benefits of refraining from NMUPD and related behaviors
    • Perceived barriers to and benefits of the desired behavior change
    • Ideas about how to make abstaining more appealing (more comfortable, fun, or popular)
    • Readiness for change
    • Preferred channels of communication (such as text messages, posters, TV, radio, websites, Twitter)
  • Based on this audience research, the campaign designs its key message (Grier & Bryant, 2005; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA], n.d.; Work Group for Community Health and Development, 2014):
    • Identifying the desired behavior you hope to bring about through social marketing (for example, abstaining from NMUPD)
    • Identifying the perceived benefits of and barriers to engaging in the desired behavior
    • Choosing a single perceived benefit to focus on emphasizing how that benefit outweighs the perceived barriers
      • Note: Avoid fear or scare tactics. Fear can have weaker effects and unintended damaging effects in real-world social marketing campaigns. Maladaptive responses (such as chronic heightened anxiety or complacency) can result, especially with at-risk populations (Hastings, Stead, & Webb, 2004).
    • Demonstrating that the perceived barriers to change can be overcome using language that is easy to understand and culturally appropriate
  • The campaign selects a communication channel, based on the preferences of the target audience. The message should be tailored to work well for each selected communication channel (NHTSA, 2001; Work Group for Community Health and Development, 2014). For example:
    • A text message or tweet will need to grab the focus population's attention using just a few words.
    • A poster should be eye-catching.
    • A radio or TV spot will require the right spokesperson.
  • Campaigns conduct research (for example, by using focus groups) to test the focus population's response to the message, the selected communication channels, and the messenger/spokesperson (if applicable). This feedback gives campaigns an opportunity to fine-tune the message and delivery methods, as needed, (Gabriel et al., 2008; Grier & Bryant, 2005; Lefebvre & Flora, 1988; SAMHSA, n.d.; Work Group for Community Health and Development, 2014).
  • To give the focus population maximum exposure to the message, it should be delivered frequently, using multiple communication channels, and zeroing in on places that are frequently accessed by the focus population (Gabriel et al., 2008; Work Group for Community Health and Development, 2014).
  • The campaign should monitor and document message delivery, actual message reach, and reception (Lefebvre & Flora, 1988; SAMHSA, n.d.; Work Group for Community Health and Development, 2014). For example, campaigns might track spokespeople used, communication channels used, dates, and which focus audience the message targeted.


General public


Exposure to social marketing campaigns has been associated with the following outcomes:

  • Increased perceptions of harm among parents regarding teen prescription drug abuse (Media Campaign, 2009)
  • A greater likelihood of parents reporting intentions to control the supply of prescription drugs in their home (Media Campaign, 2009)
  • Decreased unintentional overdose deaths from prescription opioids (Johnson, Porucznik, Anderson, & Rolfs, 2011)

Compared to those who were not exposed to the American Medicine Chest Challenge media campaign, exposed individuals were significantly statistically more likely to (Yanovitzky, 2011):

  • Take inventory of their prescription drugs
  • Lock their medicine cabinets
  • Dispose of leftover prescription drugs at a collection site
  • Talk to their children about the dangers of NMUPD


Community Tool Box. Section 2: Conducting a Social Marketing Campaign.

Social Marketing and Public Health Intervention.

Social Marketing in Public Health.

Ten Steps for Developing a Social Marketing Campaign.

Acknowledged by

No acknowledgements have been found regarding the role of social marketing campaigns in preventing NMUPD and/or its consequences.


Forthofer, M. S., & Bryant, C. A. (2000). Using audience-segmentation techniques to tailor health behavior change strategies. American Journal of Health Behavior, 24(1), 36–43.

Gabriel, R., Becker, L., Leahy, S. K., Landy, A. L., Metzger, J., Orwin, R., . . . Stein-Seroussi, A. (2008). Assessing the fidelity of implementation of the Strategic Prevention Framework in SPF SIG-funded communities: User's guide and fidelity assessment rubrics (version 2).

Grier, S., & Bryant, C. A. (2005). Social marketing in public health. Annual Review of Public Health, 26, 319–339.

Hastings, G., Stead, M., & Webb, J. (2004). Fear appeals in social marketing: Strategic and ethical reasons for concern. Psychology & Marketing, 21(11), 961–986.

Johnson, E. M., Porucznik, C. A., Anderson, J. W., & Rolfs, R. T. (2011). State-level strategies for reducing prescription drug overdose deaths: Utah's prescription safety program. Pain Medicine, 12(Suppl 2), S66–S72.

Lefebvre, R. C., & Flora, J. A. (1988). Social marketing and public health intervention. Health Education Quarterly, 15(3), 299–315.

Media Campaign. (2009). Effectiveness of a mass media campaign for parents on teen prescription drug use. Drug Prevention and Social Marketing Brief, 4, 1–3. Retrieved from www keeprxsafe com/documents/Rx%20campaign.pdf

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2001). Community how to guide on . . . media relations. Retrieved from

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (n.d.). Understanding social marketing. Rockville, MD: Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies, SAMHSA. Retrieved from

Work Group for Community Health and Development. (2014). Chapter 45, Section 2: Conducting a Social Marketing Campaign. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas. Retrieved from

Yanovitzky, I. (2011). The American Medicine Chest Challenge (AMCC): 2010 media campaign evaluation: Eagleton survey data. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Retrieved from