Issue 8: Social Marketing and Prevention of Violence Against Women

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What Is Social Marketing?

Social Marketing uses the concepts and tools of commercial marketing to promote attitudes/behaviours that improve the health or well-being of society. It is about:

  • Focusing on target/primary audience(s) (e.g., the public, women experiencing violence, men using abusive behaviours, bystanders)
  • Influencing target audience(s) attitudes/behaviours
  • Using systematic planning that applies marketing practices
  • Delivering a positive benefit for society (e.g., freedom from violence)

“The campaign should be integrated and mutually reinforce on-the-ground activities assisted by inter-agency/inter-network partnerships, and where applicable, by policy/legislative changes.” (Donovan & Vlais, 2005, p.193)

Why Use Social Marketing?

The prevention of violence against women (VAW) requires an intentional and comprehensive approach that includes addressing its key determinants. Social marketing is one strategy to change social norms by providing key messages of gender equality, inclusiveness, appropriate behaviour and respectful relationships, and how sexist attitudes and abusive behaviour towards women can be challenged.

Social Marketing seeks to influence voluntary behaviour through rewards and reinforcement not coercion and punishment.

How Does It Differ From Public Education?

At the most basic level, public education is used to communicate information and/or to build skills. It may involve a consumer focus and can be persuasive, especially when the information is novel and relevant (e.g., learning that something we thought was harmless is harmful).

Social marketing uses education as one of many tools within its marketing plan.

Understanding Change

Behaviour Change theories help explain how change happens. These theories strongly inform social marketing. Drawing from a range of change theories, researcher Martin Fishbein suggests one or more of the following must be true in order for a person to perform a given behaviour.

The person…

  • commits to perform the behaviour (positive intention)
  • has the skill
  • believes she/he/they can do it
  • believes advantages outweigh the disadvantages
  • perceives more social pressure for behaviour than against it
  • perceives behaviour as more consistent than inconsistent with his/her/their self-image
  • experiences more positive than negative emotions after performing behaviour
  • experiences no environmental constraints that prevent performing the behaviour.

Behaviour Change theories include: social norms theory, health belief model, theory of reasoned action, theory of planned behavior, social learning theory, and the transtheoretical model (stages of change model).

Promising Practices for Developing a VAW Social Marketing Campaign

  • Apply a gendered and anti-oppressive framework in all aspects of the social marketing effort
  • Engage stakeholders throughout campaign development, implementation, and evaluation
  • Ensure the campaign is integrated with and reinforces on-the-ground activities of stakeholders
  • Attend to and address ethical issues when developing, implementing, and evaluating the campaign
  • Learn from previous campaigns (what worked, what didn’t work, any unintended consequences)
  • Ensure thorough formative research is conducted to inform messages and to pre-test effects of proposed messages on intended audience(s), on women and children experiencing abuse, and on other groups
  • Promote doable objectives one at a time
  • Emphasize rewards and reinforcement (e.g., nonmonetary incentives); not punishment and coercion
  • Promote attitude/behaviour change:
    • show the desired attitude/ behaviour
    • show benefits to change
    • offer solutions to barriers
  • Utilize knowledgeable, influential, and trusted message bearers
  • Engage bystanders as an important strategy whenever possible
  • Find ways to sustain the campaign beyond a single “dose” (e.g., use social media to continue to engage audience)
  • Obtain free media coverage whenever possible (e.g., host a community event that attracts media attention)

The above recommendations are based on the publications at the following links:

  • VicHealth Review of Communication Components of Social Marketing/Public Education Campaigns Focusing on Violence Against Women (2005)
  • Social Marketing for Preventing Violence Against Women: Making Every Action Matter (2013)
  • Key Best Practices for Effective Sexual Violence Public Education Campaigns: A Summary (2011)

Learn from two VAW social marketing efforts that document thorough formative research, monitoring, and evaluation:


Check out and share these Ontario-based campaigns:

  • Neighbours, Friends & Families
  • Voisin-es, ami-es et familles
  • Kanawayhitowin

Basic Steps for Developing a Campaign

(Adapted from Lee & Kotler, 2008 & Castelino, Colla & Boulet, 2013)

  1. Identify and describe issue being addressed and intended focus of campaign
  2. Ensure organization has capacity to undertake campaign
  3. Identify potential opportunities and threats that may influence the campaign
  4. Identify and describe target/primary audience(s)
  5. Outline campaign objectives
  6. Work with the target audience to learn what may influence campaign success (e.g., perceived or real barriers, benefits, and competing attitudes/behaviours)
  7. Create a positioning statement
  8. Develop proposed messages and objectives that are relevant, accessible, relatable, and motivational
  9. Consult with stakeholders
  10. Test proposed messages and objectives with a range of groups in the population, including women and children experiencing violence, the target audience(s), and VAW stakeholders
  11. Monitor progress of campaign and evaluate


When developing the campaign budget, consider the work involved in the above steps, as well as the implementation plan. Learning at a given step may lead to revisiting and adjusting work at earlier steps (i.e., not a linear process).

Examples from Points 6 and 7 above:

6. Competing attitudes/behaviours include those preferred or habitually carried out by the target audience(s)

7. A positioning statement describes the benefits of the campaign’s promoted attitudes/behaviours to the target audience in relation to competing attitudes/behaviours. The positioning statement forms the foundation of the campaign messages/strategies.

“We want Target Audience to see Desired Attitude/ Behaviour as Set of Benefits and as more important and beneficial than Competing Attitudes/Behaviours.”

(Lee & Kotler, 2008)

EXAMPLE: “We want men who use violence in their intimate relationships to see calling a hotline and reaching out for help as an important step in ending their use of abuse and as more important and beneficial than ignoring or hiding their abusive behaviour”.  (see Learning Brief 16)

Researching, Monitoring, and Evaluating VAW Social Marketing Campaigns


When: during the design and development of the campaign


  • to better understand the issue
  • to learn more about the primary audience(s) in order to develop effective objectives and messages
  • to test proposed messages to ensure they are effective and to avoid unintended negative consequences
  • to identify opportunities or threats that may influence campaign


When: after launch and before completion of campaign

Purpose: to inform whether midcourse corrections are needed to reach goals


When: after the campaign is completed

Purpose: to measure what happened – to what extent did you reach your goals for changes in behaviours, knowledge, and attitudes? Did the campaign have an impact?

If a campaign budget does not include a sufficient allocation for formative research…we would suggest that such a campaign should not run at all.

It is essential that formative research study the effects of proposed campaign messages on women and children experiencing violence.

Donovan & Vlais, 2005, p.198.  (see Learning Brief 17)

Components of a Modified Logic Model for Reporting on Social Marketing Efforts

(From Kotler & Lee, 2011 , p. 397)





Resources allocated to the campaign or program effort

Program activities conducted to influence audiences to perform a desired behaviour

Audience response to outputs

Indicators that show levels of impact on the social issue that was the focus for the effort


  • Money
  • Staff time
  • Materials used
  • Distributions channels used


  • # of materials disseminated; websites created; social media strategies used; events held
  • Reach and frequency of communications
  • Free media coverage


  • Changes in behaviour
  • # of related products/services used
  • Responses to campaign elements (e.g., posts shared on Facebook)
  • Campaign awareness


  • Improvements in health
  • Lives saved
  • Injuries prevented
  • Crimes prevented

Evaluating the Impact

It is very difficult to evaluate the impact of a social marketing effort. Not surprisingly, few impact evaluations of social marketing campaigns exist (see Learning Brief 17).
Some challenges include:

  • Campaigns are based on an “assumption” that the promoted attitudes/behaviours will have an impact on the issue; it is difficult to prove.
  • It is difficult to know when to measure for impact because it is not clear how long it takes for attitude/behaviour changes to show an effect on the issue.
  • It is difficult to attribute change to the social marketing effort as it may be impossible to identify and control other factors that can influence the issue.

Social Marketing Campaigns around the World

The Learning Network reviewed 13 social marketing campaigns addressing woman abuse in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and the United States (between 1996 and 2013).

Campaigns may identify more than 1 target audience. The most commonly identified audiences included:

3 At-risk men

3 Ethno-cultural groups

3 Perpetrators

3 Victims and potential victims

2 College and university students

2 General public

1 Bystanders

1 Fathers

1 Health Workers

(see Learning Brief 18)

Reports on the 13 campaigns revealed:

9 included formative research

3 included monitoring measures

11 included outcome measures

2 included formative research, monitoring and outcome measures

Now Available on

Allostasis and Allostatic Load: Woman Abuse and Chronic Illness. Learning Network Brief 13, January 2014.

The Neurobiology of Sexual Assault. Learning Network Brief 14, January 2014.

Keeping Children & Mothers Safe & Engaging Men who use Abusive Behaviours: VAW and CAS Perspectives. Learning Network Brief 15, January 2014.

Basic Steps for Developing a VAW Social Marketing Campaign. Learning Network Brief 16, February 2014.

Research, Monitoring, and Evaluating VAW Social Marketing Campaigns. Learning Network Brief 17, February 2014.

Examples of Evaluated Social Marketing Campaigns addressing Woman Abuse: References and Brief Descriptions. Learning Network Brief 18, February 2014.

Research, Monitoring, and Evaluation: Summary Chart. Learning Network Tool 1, February 2014.

Modified Logic Model Template. Learning Network Tool 2, February 2014

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The Learning Network Team

Linda Baker, Learning Director
Anna-Lee Straatman, Research Associate
Marcie Campbell, Research Associate
Elsa Barreto, Multi-media Specialist