According to Andreasen (2006), the field of social marketing has developed through the years and can now be said to be entering its maturity stage. Hastings & Saren (2003) attest that, just like a real person, the field of social marketing has developed “from infancy to adulthood” over a period of around half a decade.
In the 1990s, disputes erupted about what exactly social marketing’s objective was. During what Andreasen (2003:296) called social marketing’s “identity crisis” in the mid-1990s, it was widely agreed that the role of social marketing efforts was not “changing ideas” but “influencing behaviour.”
Andreasen himself agrees that the purpose of social marketing campaigns is to carry out “behavioural influence” because that would also include “prevention of behaviour” such as not starting to smoke at all, rather than the “behaviour change” associated with giving up smoking (Andreasen, 2006:94).
Social marketing is today acknowledged as a means of promoting ideas, and its key role is understood to be influencing behaviour “for the benefit of wider society” (Glenane-Antoniadis et al, 2003:326). Hastings & Saren (2003:306) remind us that “marketers are concerned with human behaviour” and the role of social marketers in particular is that of identifying harmful behaviour and addressing it in the way that best serves specific individuals, particular communities and/or wider society, or of identifying positive behaviour and promoting it extensively.
Their contention is that many of today’s social ills are brought about, at least partly, by human behaviour and list “crime, racism and road accidents” as a case in point.
To successfully address these issues, social marketers need to understand both the conditions that govern individual behaviour and the mechanisms by which new ideas diffuse to influence a wider audience of target adopters (Kotler & Lee, 2008:123).