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Between Corporate Social Responsibility and Social Marketing


The concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and social marketing has become a subject of debate among stakeholders. While it is believed in some quarters that CSR is an organization’s initiative to assess and take responsibility for its effects on environmental and social wellbeing, social marketing aims mostly to transform habits and attitudes from a perceived negative one to a more positive one.

Meanwhile, analysts believe that it has become necessary to turn towards social issues in order to maintain competitive superiority in the market. Nowadays, corporations carry out their public relations practices and present them to the public under the names of either corporate social responsibility or social marketing. These two concepts hold different characteristics even though corporations tend to ignore the differences. The most important reason for this is the fact that the population does not have preliminary information regarding social marketing and perceive the projects realized by corporations as “corporate social responsibility.”

On this issue, a brand management consultant, Bernard Okhakume, told Daily Times that, “the business world has become increasingly competitive nowadays. Corporate social responsibility projects have provided companies with esteem and brand recognition. Other than production, profit, efficiency, and employment, the business world makes investments that benefit society; these are their corporate social responsibility projects which influence the company’s reputation in a positive manner.

According to him, “for a corporate social responsibility project to be successful, several factors come into play: the project needs to be sustainable, its topic and practice abide by ethical standards, sensitive to society’s needs, embraced and supported by the company’s employees, create the aimed effect on the target audience, and every year, and the project needs to be evaluated to see how beneficial it is.”

While making his submissions on social marketing, Okhakume disclosed that the topics emphasized are influencing social behaviour in order to benefit society, persuading individuals so that the wanted sale can be made, and the willing change of behaviour. It is a question of marketing a product or a service. The goal is to sell something with a profit while increasing brand recognition and transforming a negative attitude and behaviour into a positive one.

“The aim of social marketing is to find an answer to a social problem and to enable positive change in the target audience. Like service marketing, social marketing is to market “an abstract product.” For example, safe driving, eating healthy, family planning, and the reduction of tobacco use are certain topics. In social marketing, concrete products are marketed as well. For example, safety belt and condoms are good concrete examples of social marketing.” he said.

Further, he said that “CSR is a concept that cannot be explained easily either theoretically or empirically. Theoretically, examined and discussed, there are more than 25 different ways to define CSR. Various scholars, practitioners of CSR, groups and organizations such as the World Trade Council and United Nations have made their submissions on the issue.”

Also speaking, a public relations consultant, Fagbemi Oluwafemi, stated that, of a truth, there is a difference between CSR and social marketing, but the reason why most people find it difficult to understand the difference is the way and manner the concept is communicated to them. He expressed concern about the relevance of communication when a brand engages in a corporate social responsibility project or social marketing initiative, admonishing practitioners to take content communication into consideration when developing strategies.
Explaining the relationship between corporate social responsibility and social marketing, he stated that “the relationship between the two is based on a sharing a common goal, which is gaining a competitive advantage: increasing the reputation of a brand, building the corporative culture or establishing long-term relationships with suppliers or consumers.”
According to him, “both are highly related because CSR innovative strategies involve the development of new products or processes that require social marketing initiative. For instance, the introduction of recycled packages or the reduction of natural resources, such as water or electricity, may be communicated as a CSR advancement that was made through social marketing division. Overall, a part of CSR and social marketing are associated with product development and innovation that may influence the market value of the.”
On his part, Pwano Maxwell, who once consulted for the defunct Savannah Sugar Company in Adamawa State said, “the intensity of social marketing and CSR differs depending on the life cycle of the industry, the product or the typology of business. For instance, car companies that invest in environmental respectful proposes also invest in social marketing.
Regarding the difference between corporate social responsibility and social marketing, he pointed out that corporate social responsibility tends to be more socially responsible than social marketing, due to stronger regulations and the need to communicate transparency. Moreover, brand owners receive more pressure from their stakeholders and consumers who are getting higher demanding. It is significant to state that companies with an intense use of social marketing frequently introduce CSR initiatives to assure a high skilled external labour.

For Maxwell, “CSR means the charity fund that is formed generally by a profit making organization in order to make activities for the benefit of society. For instance, the CSR unit of a firm may donate a sum of money to a school or a hospital, award scholarships for poor children or support a cleaning day at a local park or a beach. CSR programmes are mostly used to form a firm’s ‘good neighbour’ or ‘good citizen’ image. A firm practising CSR devotes 95% of its sources for profit making and 5 % (or less) for making the world a better place. However, some studies point out that CSR is not only a type of charitableness but a consistent policy supporting long-term goals. Over the years companies are under mounting pressure to take responsibility for the effects of their corporate conduct on society, especially when these effects go beyond the firm’s direct commercial interests. As a result, an increasing number of companies, big and small, have developed CSR programmes.”

Comparing public relations with social marketing, he said; “actually, it may not be totally right to compare public relations and social marketing practices because while public relations is a discipline that has existed since the first half of the 20th century, social marketing emerged in the second half of the century. Naturally, public relations have a much stronger and more professional background. However, the differences between the two concepts can generally be summarized as: the organizational goal in public relations is image developing and forming good relationships with society and employers, while social marketing aims to create change in behaviour in favour of society and individuals.”

“While the aim of public relations is to adopt new products and ideas; the aim of social marketing is accepting a new behaviour, rejecting a potential behaviour or ensuring that an old behaviour is abandoned. Public relations activities are less concerned with creating behavioural change in society and measuring the gain from a campaign by assessing this change. On the other hand, this is the main goal of social marketing,” he noted
He added, “when the practices of social marketing throughout its short history are examined, it can be seen that there are approaches that are less to do with the discipline but that can change the world more. While there is a very close relationship with the staff in public relations, in particular, social marketing is mainly related to the target population outside the organization.”

In conclusion, terms such as corporate social responsibility and social marketing are being newly discussed, and it is interesting that corporations present their projects under the corporate social responsibility title. Corporate social responsibility projects help corporations become more reputable and to be preferred by the target audience.

It could be said that there is not a definite separation between the terms corporate social responsibility and social marketing, however, there are important idealistic differences. When the sector is in such chaos, it is difficult for corporations to make a solid division between these two concepts. It is important that scientific practices increase so that corporation can become more aware and thus end the meaning confusion between the terms

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