Written by Linda Hauns.

As young climate change activists capture the world’s attention, one has to admire their fierce and consistent requests as they fight for their future. They see a clear case of injustice being done upon the planet and themselves. 

We as social marketers, ultimately engage in activities that seek to change society for the better. The two don’t seem too different, yet completely different methods of pursuing our goals are applied. 

But then – are activism and social marketing indeed entirely unrelated? Social activism is considered an intentional action with the goal of bringing about social change. Wouldn’t that make all of us social marketers also social activists by definition? 

Indeed, there is a growing body of scientific research supporting the benefits of exploring social movements, activism and social advocacy as tools to increase the success of social marketing campaigns and strategies. 

How is it then that any kind of activism, especially in the form of protests, is not frequently considered by social change agents and instead not taken seriously?

The question arises whether we have become too focused on our traditional downstream tactics of behaviour change. Have we limited ourselves to influencing individual’s behaviour rather than working towards the overall goal of improving well-being at the community or societal level? 

While there is a definite requirement for further research into how to effectively integrate advocacy and social movements into a social marketer’s tool kit, the previous findings all agree: In a world where the barriers to social marketers’ success are increasing, the boundaries of social marketing must be expanded and new strategies and tools must be employed. 

To increase the effectiveness of social marketing campaigns, focus should shift away from traditional downstream marketing concepts to incorporating new strategic tools and perspectives. The opportunity for activism, advocacy and social movements as additional frameworks and tactics for achieving social change, especially in midstream and upstream social marketing is clear and heavily recommended by previous research.

Even though social movement theory differs from social marketing in terms of emphasis on achieving change at the community level, as well as intentional application of marketing principles, both also have parallels. They ultimately seek to achieve the same goal of effecting social change and wellbeing. 

Greta Thunberg and her generation have become social change advocates in their own way, using the tools they are given – their voices. Not yet being able to vote for the future they desire and deserve; they have to make enough noise for government leaders and policy makers to hear and acknowledge them. 

The activism of one single person has led to a worldwide movement of millions, making climate change a topic discussed daily and inspiring changes in climate change policies and sustainable business.  

What can we, as social marketers take away from this? 


Wymer, W. (2011), “Developing more effective social marketing strategies”, Journal of Social Marketing, Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 17-31. https://doi-org.ezproxy.usc.edu.au/10.1108/20426761111104400

Daellenbach, K. and Parkinson, J. (2017), “A useful shift in our perspective: integrating social movement framing into social marketing”, Journal of Social Marketing, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 188-204. https://doi-org.ezproxy.usc.edu.au/10.1108/JSOCM-04-2016-0013

Gurrieri, L.Gordon, R.Barraket, J.Joyce, A. and Green, C. (2018), “Social marketing and social movements: creating inclusive social change coalitions”, Journal of Social Marketing, Vol. 8 No. 4, pp. 354-377. https://doi-org.ezproxy.usc.edu.au/10.1108/JSOCM-12-2016-0078


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