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Social Advertising: Overview and Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 3791 words Published: 5th Jun 2017

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Advertising is a method of communication used by companies with the aim of making consumers keener on buying the product promoted. Advertisement according to McNamara (2011) can be defined as “bringing a product (or service) to the attention of potential and current customers … focused on one product… hence the plan for one product might be different than that for another…” It is therefore essential as well to note that there are several mediums through which advertising has over the years been carried out through like commercials, signs, direct nails, personal contact, and signs or even through electronic mails.

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Social advertising, on the other hand, has been in use for years contrary to the beliefs of many who tend to think and suggest that it is a new and recent idea in the communication sector. The whole idea of social advertising is pegged on using the marketing and advertising philosophies to promote health and social issues with an aim of bringing forth a positive change in behavior of a targeted group or society in general (“Farlex”. The Free Dictionary. Computer Desktop Encyclopedia, 2009. “Social Advertising”). It is widely used by nonprofit and other institutions, such as the Centre for Disease Control and Drug Free Partnership for America, which has been using and engaging in social advertising for many years to impact the society and the world at large.

The history of social advertising though in America started during the World War II where social advertising was used to inform people on the unfolding and also campaign for the American government. Roosevelt instructed that a War Advertising Council (now the Ad Council) be established, which carried social advertisements on behalf of the government and also the non-profit organizations like the Smokey Bear campaign. In this way, the American population was kept aware of what was going on in the society in terms of people’s reaction towards the war and also informed about the happenings in the battlefield. (Chatham University 2009, “The Effects of American Advertising and Consumerism.”)

Technically, the term social advertising/marketing was used by Kotler and Zalman in 1971 first in reference to the application of marketing in a bid to solve societal problems (The Philippine Star, 2001). Since marketing had been used to remarkably move market products, it was argued that in the same trend it can be used to move human beings to adopt particular behaviors that are desirable and beneficial to the society.

There are social marketing campaigns that are meant to expose the trouble areas to the wider society and make us attentive to their causes. Even though bringing the attention of the society to the root of the problem may not trigger change in the attitude of the society and their behavior “as these are shaped by habits, interests, feelings, and beliefs” (The Philippine Star, 2001) and that is the reason why the social advertising campaigns, in order to be considered effective must transverse the mere hurdle of agitation and education.

Social marketing is peculiarly characterized by its emphasis on the non-tangible products and performance as opposed to the focus of commercial marketing on tangible goods and products. The primary focus is on the public and on understanding what their wants and needs are, rather than twisting them to fit into what we have like in the commercial marketing model.

In a nutshell, social advertising basically tells the individual/group to embrace a new behavior, decline a probable influence/behavior, change a current behavior and discard an old behavior.

On a personal level, I am very sensitive to social problems and humanity’s future challenges, that’s why I find sociological topics very interesting. I was very driven also to combine my business and management knowledge concerned with advertising. Nowadays, advertising has a vital role in our lives since we can find it almost everywhere! In business terms, advertising is the main point of the marketing mix. The marketing mix comprises the elements used by firms to satisfy as effectively as possible the needs of their customers, such as by product, by price, by promotion and by place.

United States seems to be a very good example to examine since it’s advertising sector is on consistent growth with estimations exceeding $300 billion spend on advertising for 2010 (Tns-mi.com, 2007). A country that competes and provides it’s marketing features in an international market, (through internet for example) can then be assumed that is a trend-setter for world wide phenomena and may lead to behavioural changes not only for domestic viewers.

Hence, the main aim of this extended essay is to explore the extent to which social advertising is pervasive in the United States, by exploring its magnitude of application in different facets of the American society.

Characteristics of social advertising:

The social advertisements strive to put forth advertisement formats that will capitalize on the social perception and perspective of the viewer (Pharma Marketing, 2010). This is in contrast to the traditional advertising that was non-social and was based on the details known about the individual whereas the social advertising is aimed at the individual user’s existing and potential network.

It is the capitalization on the perceptions of the viewer that make social advertising to be the first of its kind to take systematic leverage over the traditionally ‘offline’ potentiality, such as friends recommendations, peer influence and pressure and other manifestations of peer influence (Pharmaceutical Marketing Network, 2011 “Social Advertising on Facebook”). This makes it more popular and used by many more each waking day.

The social advertising repeats the content over and over within very short time unlike the traditional advertising that were timed and limited to the peak times when it is felt they can generate more influence and impact. The social network will treat the viewers to timely and repeated transmissions at staggered intervals (Compass Labs, 2010).

The social advertisements have also acted as referrals that are trusted by many people and this gives even more evidence that people can influence other people. The social advertising takes advantage of the fact that it is no longer a paradigm of what message is sent to the wider viewer platform but that which is shared among friends and social advertising sets out to explore these social trends to develop a new type of advertising system (Bloomerg Businessweek, 2007).

The advertisers are hence constantly searching for ways to reach out to numerous social networks which compels them to look at advertising networks to push through their custom content and applications. This makes them come up with interactive advertisements or contextual advertising. (Digital Signage Today, 2011)

To get a deeper understanding of the idea of social advertising, it will be worthy taking a look at a few examples of these advertisers and the advertisements as well and see what they deal in.

The various social advertising that we face day to day includes those that push us to accept new behavior like “Wear a life vest while in the boat” or those that encourage us to reject potential harmful behavior like “pregnant women should avoid alcohol” to escape possibilities of defects to the unborn child.

There are those social advertisements that aim to modify a current behavior like parents to wear seat belts as a role model in order to reduce injuries in case of an accident and those that target to help one abandon old behaviors, like quitting smoking to reduce chances of cancers or birth defects. These are some of the social advertising that we come across on a very regular basis.

Some of the features that are common with most if not all social advertising are that they are non-commercial and solely aimed at societal benefits. They are also performed by governments, large corporate organizations or NGOs. They are as well related to the people’s attitude and enlist the use of big names that are popular among the targeted society or group.

Techniques of social advertising:

In the world of social advertising, there are numerous techniques that are employed by the parties involved. The mediums to be used are endless depending on the targeted audience and viewers and what is easily accessible to them. Wall murals, billboards, flyers, street furniture, cards, radio, television, mobile phone screens, human billboards, newspapers, shopping carts, bus sides, planes, web banners, rooftops, stickers, back of tickets and many more places have been used by the social advertising to pass across their message and point (thoughts.com, 2011).

Lately, there have been tendencies of more and more social advertising going to the World Wide Web which is a recent discovery as compared to the others. It is a very influential medium since once an advert is uploaded onto the website, the message and pictures cam be seen throughout the world.

The other recent mode is the digital signage. It is a force to reckon with in the field of advertisement. The digital signage gets into close touch with the targeted viewers and explores the interactive nature of human beings. They are also easy to control with precision as to what to display and for how long and how often. This makes the message to be relevant to the audience at all times and varying places. These are used in supermarkets, restaurants and even street corners. (Digital Signage Today, 2011).

The other recent technique that the social advertising uses is the E-mail phenomenon, which is equally a recent trend as the digital signage. More often this happens in the form of unsolicited nails that contain the social motivator or message intended to be passed across. (Majon International, 2010).

From the above techniques, it is apparent that the social media has struck favor among the users due to its simplicity to use and the relevance in content and timeliness. For instance, it is easier to create an advertisement page on Facebook than most social media. As a matter of fact, it takes few minutes to do it, after which you can get suggestions instantly of target groups and how you can get networked with them, as well as tutorials on how to make your advertising page look better (Fortune, 2010).

Effects of social advertising on the American society:

Having seen that the society at large is highly dependent on the social media – and it is on these social networks that the social advertising has turned to – it is necessary to look at the extent to which the society today has been affected by the medium of transmission and the content of social advertising.

The underlying fact about social advertising is that it aims at making a positive impact on the society in general; it is the drive to see a better society that makes the foundation and core business of the organizations involved in social advertisements.

It has been seen that the techniques used in promoting profitable goods and services can as well be used for information purpose, educate and motivational aspect to the public about issues of public interest like HIV/AIDS, energy conservation, politics and political trends, deforestation and many more social issues.

Since advertising is an influential education means that is capable of not only reaching but also motivating vast audiences, its proper use is bound to produce some desirable results and this is the only level at which we can confidently say that the advertising has helped or is significant in human life. As Howard Gossage is correctly referred to by David Ogilvy in Education Line (2009), “Advertising justifies its existence when used in the public interest-it is much too powerful a tool to use solely for commercial purposes – we are persuaded that in as much as advertising is being used for commercial supremacy, there is room for social messages to be propagated by the same medium.” Other terms that are interchangeably used to refer to using sophisticated advertisement modes to influence the society towards good morals are non-commercial advertising, cause marketing, public service advertising, public interest advertising or social marketing.

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One of the most fundamental things that social advertising aim at is health. Most of the earlier advertisements were focused on advising the audience on what foods to eat, the correct type of diet when under different conditions. By use of mass media like the radio, internet, newspaper and TV, health tips and information can be disseminated to a vast audience at the same time. The ideas about how to quit smoking, fighting addicting to junk food that contains too much sugar or calories can be effectively passed on here (Barrie et al, 2005).

Drug abuse:

Social networks like Facebook have highly influenced many youth concerning drug abuse and consumption of alcohol. The advertisements have time over and over targeted the youth to inform them about the harmful nature of drugs and alcohol. The social advertising has enabled them to register online into small voluntary groups and freely share their ideas on drugs. Since it is a virtual thing and no one sees the other, the members of these teams are free to discuss anything that can help stop them or friends from drug abuse hence producing a cleaner American generation. (Media Campaign, 2009).

A good example of social advertising venture is the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign (NYADMC), which is almost the largest social marketing team that utilizes the service of mass media to deliver drug prevention messages and information. For instance, NYADMC embarked on what they called prescription drug initiative which was targeted at increasing parents’ awareness of prescription drug abuse and effectively equip them with information that would help the parents control the supply of prescription drugs (Media Campaign, 2009).

Community policing:

It is noteworthy that social advertising has moved out of the hitherto known domain of health issues alone into various other fields, necessitated by change of events in the contemporary society. Social marketing has enabled community policing to run smoothly in many parts of the USA. It enables the security sector to engage extensively with the citizens and obtain valuable feedback hence helping in crime prevention and behavior change through the various police schedules (Stephan, 2009). It is through such initiatives that crime in the USA can be effectively driven out.


HIV/AIDS is a scourge that has ravaged many societies in the whole world and particularly the third world. Here in the USA the effects are not very profound but still felt. It is therefore a responsibility of the social media to update the Americans about the effects of the scourge, the prevention, and care for the infected and any new information that may come up as medical research progresses.

This milestone in handling HIV/AIDS has been achieved by a very wide proportion. In fact, Nilimaa (2004) agrees that “the objective of advertising for a large number of nonprofit organizations is to be persuasive, and both persuasive and informative approaches may be included.” He acknowledges that social advertising has a central part in the society toward elimination of HIV/AIDS. The American population has been a beneficiary of the same, since the media is central in the campaign and sensitization about HIV/AIDS thanks to the social advertisements by NGOs.

Social discrimination:

There have been quite a number of social advertisements that are also geared towards discouraging any acts of social discrimination, encouraging cohesion of the whole USA and prevention of inequality of any form towards all Americans. The social marketing techniques strive to prevent any recurrence of the past history of discriminatory acts whether at social amenities, public institutions, places of work, government offices and any other shared amenities. (The Online Institute, 2011). The UNDP Belarus (2004) set up projects in various parts of the world fighting discrimination of all types and one of the major ways is through social advertisements.

Road safety:

The safety of each and every American who walks out of his house each time and gets to the road is a priority of the government and all other stakeholders. This safety begins from the accident free drives to carjacking prevention. The issue of roadside pedophilia has also threatened the American security a number of times where the pedestrians and their children are the victims.

The road carnage is on the rise during the holidays and it is at this time that more social adverts on road safety are flashed on the TV screens more often discouraging drunken driving, speeding, careless stopping in the woods, cautious driving and all the keeping trail of group members, car poling and so on (B&T, 2003). These are meant to go a long way in curbing the rampant accidents that may emerge during the busy festive seasons.

Environmental care:

As a result of global warming, the environment has become everybody’s business. It is no longer an issue that can be left on the shoulders of the governments of the countries of the world to handle. NGOs, corporate organizations and environmental groups have all lined up to help salvage the environment from the constant but certain escalation of global warming. The social advertisements will come in handy in this scenario as well. Indeed OMRON (2011), “believes that one of the best ways to realize a sustainable society is to proactively undertake environmental conservation activities and share the results and plans with stakeholders through a variety of media, thereby promoting communication with them.” They rely on the social media to carry out their social advertisements in ways of conserving the environment for the future generation. Americans will benefit from such techniques and implement them to sustain an environment that is inhabitable and a better America for tomorrow.


America has seen a number of corruption cases be they in inflation of bills, irregular tender awards, banking sector under deals, procurement process flouting and much more. Very few have gone unnoticed, but majority are identified and made public to the relevant authorities. For us to bring up a generation that has integrity and impeccable character there is need to keep corruption in check to the best limits available and this is where America has successfully employed the technique of using media as a way of social advertisement or campaign against the vice. (World Bank Institute, 2011).

Advertisers’ Social Responsibility:

The prerequisite to any society to cohesively exist is the cordial relationship among its members. Without the harmony that keeps the society glued together, the society will crumple in its basic structure and be no more. Hence, all the viable institutions in the society have a duty to uphold the harmony through appropriate stewardship of those under it. In the bid to uphold this harmony, integrity and honesty, adherence to generally agreed upon ethical standards, availability to offer assistance to various segments of the society and being cautious with respect to the privacy of each society member are the key issues to be considered by social advertisers. (Brand Republic, 2010).

Advertising holds a central place in developed countries, contributing immensely to their economic growth. Hence, it is so influential that it can as well affect the results of a political contest. With such powers in the hands of advertising, what comes with it the responsibility which lies in the hands of the sponsors, creators, producer, buyer and even seller of the advertisement, to maintain the maximum ethical standards that support the entire society and contribute to its economic growth.

In the USA, the advertisement sector falls in the wider business community that immensely contributes to the growth of the nation as one. It is therefore significant for this sector to play its part in the maintenance of order, respect to the society, and generally contribute to making the community better day by day.

American advertisers have kept their bar above the rest and formed the American Advertising Federation (AAF) which represents the sector in the USA and acts as the unifying voice for advertising (AAF, 2011).

The AAF will act as a unifying factor for all the involved parties in the advertising company and as well furnish them with the ethics of advertising. Social advertising is not an exception to these rules. Social advertisers have to follow the ethics guiding the advertising industry, so as to avoid any disharmony in the industry.


In as much as the social marketing deals only with behaviour change, social advertisers will still have to stick with by the rules of advertising in putting up their advertisement be they in placard forms, flyers, newspaper, roadside billboards, TV adverts or radio since they remain to be as influential as any other commercial advertisement. If these ethics are not followed then the only replacement that they could have is greed as explained by Wallace et al (2007), which in turn will lead to a downturn in social cohesion and lead to losses be it in profits or valuable human lives.

In general, the American society enjoys a relatively harmonious advertising environment, though there are a few uncertain areas as to ethics, which centre mainly on the commercial advertising. Social advertising has maintained a relatively upright and trustworthy trend through the years.

Social advertising has seen the society gain from the pool of knowledge that there is and has had a relatively timely and profitable updates on the challenges of contemporary society. Hence, we can conclude that its positive impact on the American society will help it become an even more popular way of passing social messages to the wider American society with a view to instilling positive behaviours in people.


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