Thursday, 7 October 2010

Can Business help the NHS in Social Marketing?

The marketing industry has a new agenda of helping Social Change on the horizon, according to an  article over at Marketing Week. This will no doubt extend into the realms of health, so what effect might it have on the NHS?

The advent of web 2.0 has given consumers an unprecedented level of power and a strong voice within the market place, as well as making business practice more accessible and visible than ever. If a business does something wrong, a disgruntled customer now has the potential to tell thousands, if not millions of people via the internet. This has brought about an era of openness, honesty and transparency, where these have become much more than just buzz words, but the defining features of a revolution in how business presents itself.

Coca-Cola have just launched the Live Positively campaign, which Guillermo Aponte, president and general manager of Coca-Cola Philippines, says, "... is our commitment to making a positive difference in the world by incorporating sustainability into everything that we do,”

But Coke does have to do this, if only to combat the large amount of websites, blogs and profiles that try to paint a different picture, such as Killer Coke.

Either way, big business is trying to play nice. Really nice. And they're turning to marketing agencies, of all people, to help them.

I say "of all people", but really it makes sense. It's marketeers who're in the business of segmenting and understanding demographics and selling ideas. Or put another way, helping a Private or Public entity communicate with the Public.

So now that communication from business  may have a similar message as that given by the Public sector. With budgets being cut, having the Private sector contribute in Social Marketing could be extremely helpful to the NHS, but how can they ensure that the messages are complimentary? Perhaps the answer is to work together.

Again, Coca Cola provides an example, having a history of partnerships with Public bodies throughout the world. However,  there is a risk that having a brand attached to a campaign can dilute the message.

"In October 2009, in an effort to improve their image, Coca-Cola partnered with the American Academy of Family Physicians, providing a $500,000 grant to help promote healthy-lifestyle education; the partnership spawned sharp criticism of both Coca-Cola and the AAFP by physicians and nutritionists"


But the benefits that business can bring may be worth the risk. A business may have a wider reach and a larger budget than the NHS, so could really help spread their message further. Another benefit could be  that if the marketing sector finds more and more of it's private sector work involves Social Marketing, that will better place them to provide the same services to the NHS. Methodology and tools may already have been developed and research done.

Partnerships could lead on to health services, Social Marketing campaigns or Social Enterprises being sponsored by business. If MacDonalds sponsored heart disease wards, would this be seen as hypocrisy or a company genuinely trying to change? And would that be a move towards the privatisation of the NHS, that some suspect to be a long standing aim of the Conservative party?

And there's the larger question. Few would question that business, like everyone else, should have a Social Conscience, but do they have the right to influence how people live? Traditionally, their aim would be to influence people into buying a product or service. Many would question the techniques in this as being too manipulative and would likely be even more concerned should that extend to behavioural change too. The bottom line would still be the same, being 'buy more'. Some question even the NHS's right to change behaviour, but with business, there's that added cynicism about motivation, that it all boils down to making money.

Or to put that more succinctly, can we trust trust business, especially big business, with Social Marketing?

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