Social Marketing Evidence Base


In response to questions about the effectiveness of social marketing in global health, we systematically reviewed all literature published over two decades on social marketing for several health areas; reproductive health, malaria, child survival, and tuberculosis in developing countries.

Here’s what we learned:

There is robust evidence on social marketing to promote the use of condoms, family planning, and nutrition supplements for pregnant women and children.

Key evidence gaps limit the assessment of the effectiveness of social marketing for other health interventions, such as tuberculosis case-finding, safe abortion, and immunization.

Interventions addressing specific social marketing benchmark criteria — audience insight, exchange, competition, method mix, and audience segmentation — are more likely to achieve positive results.

Strengthening the quality of evidence on social marketing will require investment in more rigorous evaluations.

Social Marketing information

Download the infographic on The Social Marketing Evidence Base


Read on to learn more about the background, methods, and results.

What is Social Marketing?

Social Marketing is an approach that uses marketing principles and concepts (for example, the 4Ps of the market – product and packaging design, pricing, place and promotion) to influence demand and supply and promote use.

The objective is to ensure user-friendly product design, appropriate pricing, efficient sales & distribution, and effective communications to influence the behaviors that benefit individuals and communities for the greater good.

Social Marketing programs help grow health markets by selling products through private sector outlets (like pharmacies and private clinics), delivering health services through social franchising, and conducting outreach promoting healthy behaviors (e.g. hand washing).

How Does Social Marketing Lead to Better Health?

Behavioral factors mediate the process of behavior change, such as knowledge of and attitudes toward the behavior or perceived access to a product or service.

Behavior change is defined as the adoption of the health behavior being promoted, such as condom use, uptake of family planning, or sleeping under a bednet.
Health outcomes include measures such as cases of HIV, malaria, diarrhea, or tuberculosis averted, or unintended pregnancies prevented.

How We Compiled the Data

17,504 studies were gathered and evaluated

125 studies met the inclusion criteria

Each eligible study was:

  • Assessed using the 8 Social Marketing Benchmark Criteria
  • Characterized as quasi-experimental or experimental
  • Coded for results that were exclusively positive and significant, mixed, or not statistically significant

Result types were tallied across 5 health areas:




 Child Survival


What Did We Find?

Health Area Behavioral Factors Behavior Change Health Outcomes
%Mixed   %Positive %Mixed   %Positive %Mixed   %Positive

Explore the Evidence

Click the icons below for a summary of results by health area and outcome category.

Read the published manuscript on the Social Marketing Evidence Base:

  Firestone R, Rowe CJ, Modi SN, Sievers D. 2016. The effectiveness of social marketing in global health: a systematic review. Health Policy and Planning 32(1):100-124. Available online:


Recent Work:

  Terris-Prestholt F & Windmeijer F. 2016. How to sell a condom? The impact of demand creation tools on male and female condom sales in resource limited settings. Journal of Health Economics, 48:107-120. Available online: .

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