Written by By Ricardo D. LaGrange, Ph.D., M.P.H.

In June 2015, Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business honored the 20+ year faculty career and legacy of Alan Andreasen, a renowned marketing professor and pioneer of social marketing.  The topic of the panel discussion that night was “Social Marketing in a Changing World” and focused on how the world was, “changing in the face of migrations, pandemics, rising social inequality, and the spread of technologies.”  One of the panelists encapsulated the discussion when he recalled the advice Professor Andreasen gave him as a student forty years earlier, “You cannot separate out the systemic conditions that people in poverty live in from how they make their decisions.”  Two years later, these words seem particularly salient in the current geo-political environment.

The rising wave of populism has disrupted political norms in several Western countries since that 2015 celebration.  The two prevailing theories used to explain this phenomenon include the economic insecurity perspective, which emphasizes the consequences of profound changes transforming the workforce and society in post-industrial economies.  The cultural backlash explanation suggests that support for populism is a retro reaction by once-predominant sectors of the population to progressive value change.  Whether or not we are living in the midst of the dawn of a new world order—or at least the destruction of the old one – the wisdom shared by Professor Andreasen nearly half a century ago still resonates today. Regardless of the predominant theory at play, systemic conditions continue to drive how people make their decisions.

Therefore, social marketers must become agile in order to remain relevant, drive social impact and continue to advance the science of behavior change.  In this “new” changing world, perhaps we can better position ourselves for success by shaping our discussions around these questions:

How can social marketing keep up and stay effective in a changing world?

What are the kinds of messaging strategies that will be most successful?

What behavioral theories can help explain the populism movement?

What big ideas will be influential in shaping practice and discourse for the future?

Please share your thoughts or propose other relevant questions for discussion on our blog.


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