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This article presents the ways in which social marketing has been used in Europe, the contribution it has made to tackling major health issues, and the challenges it has faced. The extent to which social marketing is used varies greatly across Europe, although the past decade has seen a rise in EU-wide funded Social Marketing Programs. Despite the inconsistent and rather sporadic use of social marketing in Europe, some of the European aid organizations continue to fund numerous social marketing programs in developing countries. The European social marketing community need to continue to work together to promote its value and gain continued political buy-in for the discipline.
Although social marketing has been gaining recognition within Europe and a European-specific evidence-base has been established, it still remains underused. As with many disciplines, social marketing’s success (and also downfall) has been political, with social marketing often coming into favor with one government, only to be replaced by another discipline when a new government has been elected. Despite these setbacks, the value of social marketing is starting to be recognized once more and adopted by more and more professionals, in particular in tackling stubborn public health issues. Organizations such as the ESMA have been established, as well as country specific bodies, to help support the development and usage of the discipline.
Along with continuing to build a robust evidence-base, the discipline has to position itself against the “competition” and be clearly able to answer the questions: How does social marketing differ, for example, to behavioral economics? And, what added value does social marketing bring, compared to other disciplines? Unless we can answer these questions concisely, and in a way that clearly communicates the benefit for the person we are “selling” social marketing to, offering them both longer term impact, while also showing some quick wins, it will be hard to compete with the other disciplines.