Social Marketing, Consumer Behavior, and the SDGs


Forrest Watson, Department of Business Administration, Middle East Technical University

publication date

March 01, 2020


Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (external link).

cite as

Watson, Forrest (2020), “Social Marketing, Consumer Behavior, and the SDGs,” Macromarketing Pedagogy Place, (accessed August 21, 2020), [available at].


Consumer Behavior; Social Marketing


Group Assignment; Semester-long project


Social marketing is one bridge for how to apply the principles and skills taught in Consumer Behavior to larger social issues.

Social marketing is “the application of commercial marketing technologies to the analysis, planning, execution, and evaluation of programs designed to influence the voluntary behavior of target audiences in order to improve their personal welfare and that of their society” (Andreasen 1995, p. 7). This definition includes the influencing of behavior of target audiences (squarely in the domain of Consumer Behavior) and societal welfare (a major concern of macromarketing and the SDGs).

In the project, students pick a social issue of their choice related to one of the SDGs, collect data, and complete a social marketing plan for how to deal with these systemic challenges. The social marketing project has many similarities to the experiential learning projects described by Radford, Hunt, and Andrus (2015). The project focuses on influencing consumer behavior in the direction of one of the SDGs.


With the similar techniques students learn to stimulate the purchase of more fast fashion, plastic water bottles, or cigarettes, they can also be trained to influence responsible consumption, sustainable cities, and good health and well-being.

Classroom example

The core of the upper-level undergraduate CB course is a term project in which students collect data and complete a social marketing plan to address a social issue. In teams, students begin by collecting secondary data to understand the scope of the social issue and past approaches to it (e.g., Shapiro 2008a). They collect primary consumer data through in-depth interviews, observations, or surveys.

Based on the analysis of the data, they reflect on the biggest challenges to changing behavior related to the social issue. The teams then create and present a social marketing plan, including specific marketing strategy recommendations, as if they were hired by the local or national government as consultants.


To help improve the quality of the work produced, include more interim checkpoints, even if they are ungraded. This makes students space out their efforts.

Steady feedback throughout the semester is more constructive to learning than the final grading at the end of the semester.

Project schedule

Project schedule



Week 1

Project Introduction including SDGs

Week 2

Readings on Social Marketing

Week 3

Team and Social Issues Selection (Submitted to Instructor)

Week 5

Interim Report Due (Includes Introduction with defined Research Question, Data Collection Methods, and Secondary Research)

Week 6

Feedback given to teams on plans

Week 7

Training on methodologies, especially conducting interviews

Week 9

Transcripts and Primary Findings (Submitted to Instructor)

Week 14

Final Projects Due (Submitted to Instructor)

Week 15

Project Presentations

Feedback from students

The students appear more invested in the data collection and recommendations because they select the social issue they most care about. Students have also demonstrated the ability to apply the lessons to urgent current events.

In the most recent semester the course was offered, there were two deaths on campus within a two-week span. These tragedies evoked deep sadness and outrage. Two separate groups of students from the class formed voluntarily to use the same systems-level thinking and analysis skills to confront the systemic societal problems of mental illness and physical safety.



Available worksheets for this project.





Social Marketing Project Outline and Grading Sheet (Worksheet)



Social Marketing Project Interim Report (Worksheet)




  1. Alan R Andreasen. Social marketing: its definition and domain. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 13(1):108–114, 1994.

  2. Karen FA Fox and Philip Kotler. The marketing of social causes: the first 10 years. Journal of Marketing, 44(4):24–33, 1980.

  3. Scott K Radford, David M Hunt, and Deborah Andrus. Experiential learning projects: a pedagogical path to macromarketing education. Journal of Macromarketing, 35(4):466–472, 2015.

  4. Stanley J Shapiro. An open source, controversies-based macromarketing chapter: an initial step toward a free online macromarketing course? Journal of Macromarketing, 28(4):426–428, 2008.