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Social Good and Ethics in Social Marketing for Wicked Problems

Special issue call for papers from Journal of Social Marketing

Guest editors:

Krzysztof Kubacki, Griffith University,
Natalia Szablewska, Southern Cross University,
Ann-Marie Kennedy, University of Canterbury,

Deadline for submission: 24 December 2018

The consensus definition of social marketing endorsed by leading social marketing associations provides that “Social marketing seeks to develop and integrate marketing concepts with other approaches to influence behaviours that benefit individuals and communities for the greater social good” (iSMA, ESMA and AASM, 2013). It is the focus on the social good — be it in the form of well-being, quality of life, physical health, or public good — that distinguishes social marketing from its parent discipline of commercial marketing. With social marketing’s increasing focus on wicked problems and system-wide change, there is a growing need for the ethicality and social good of social marketing to be addressed by academics and practitioners alike. Yet, in the ever-broadening field of social marketing, the social good and ethics have received scant attention.

Wicked problems can be defined as social issues that do not have a clear single cause or solution (Rittel and Weber, 1973). These include such problems as environmental degradation, human trafficking, political and religious extremism, domestic violence, obesity and smoking, among others, that are highly complex, have multiple stakeholders, and multiple facilitating factors (Kennedy et al., 2017). While agreeing on a definition of any particular wicked problem is very difficult, agreeing on its causes and solutions proves even harder. Though when a solution is implemented, changes ripple through all stakeholders and the environment and unintended effects can cause ethical issues for society (Kennedy, 2016; Rittel and Weber, 1973). Special issues in journals such as the Journal of Marketing Management on strategic social marketing epitomise the views that wicked problems need to be addressed as part of a market system (Gordon, Russell-Bennett and Lefebvre, 2016). As part of this discussion, the dangers of using social marketing as part of system change, and the enormity of changing a whole society are increasingly questioned and pondered (Kennedy, 2016) often with a discussion of social engineering (Kennedy and Parsons, 2014). As such the beginnings of ethical discussions on these topics are appearing, but without a suitable outlet authors are not forming complete articles focusing on social marketing ethics; rather, they are limited to adding sections or merely touching upon it in their work. This Special Issue provides them with an outlet to fully engage with this issue.

Although there is rich literature on social marketing tools and techniques (see, e.g., Tapp and Spotswood 2013), the meanings, and the associated challenges, of the social good and ethics in social marketing for wicked problems remain under-conceptualised and under-researched. Increasingly social marketers are being challenged to demonstrate not only the effectiveness and economic value of their interventions, but also to consider the wider social and cultural impact of their actions on societies at large. This Special Issue asks: how can we respond to these challenges and what tools do we have in our social marketing toolkit to ensure transparency and accountability, equality and non-discrimination, and participation and inclusion for all (Szablewska and Kubacki, 2017)? We invite empirical, methodological and conceptual papers from a broad range of disciplines, such as social marketing, health education, politics, ethics, philosophy and law, which address issues pertaining to the following non-exhaustive list of topics:

•    The meaning(s) of the social/public/common good in social marketing and behaviour change;
•    Who decides on the meaning(s) of the social good, how and why;
•    What can different academic disciplines tell us about the social good in social marketing?;
•    When to educate, socially market, or regulate?;
•    The use of commercial marketing in social marketing: how to ensure the social good when profit is required?;
•    Is social marketing the tool to make markets a level playing field?;
•    Marketisation of the social good;
•    Social marketing, materialism and consumerism: solving and creating problems;
•    The ethics of social marketing and specific social marketing tools and techniques;
•    Segmentation as a form of inclusion and/or exclusion;
•    Social marketing competition: fostering citizenship or dividing communities?;
•    How to identify and minimise unintended consequences of social marketing and behaviour change;
•    Behaviour change as a disruption of social harmony;
•    Behaviour change as a form of social engineering: a necessity or evil?;
•    Strategies to avoid marginalisation and/or exclusion in social marketing;
•    The meaning and role of empowerment in social marketing;
•    Self-regulation and social marketing code of ethics.

Guest editors invite any work which contributes to a better understanding of the social good and ethics in social marketing for wicked problems and the opportunities and challenges associated with it. Papers need to demonstrate application to change at either the individual (behavioural) or structural (policy) level. Enquiries can be directed to the guest editors via:

The submission process is as follows:

Step 1: Authors need to adhere to the guidelines of the Journal of Social Marketing (JSOCM). The JSOCM word limit is 6000‐8000 words. For other information about the journal, including specific author guidelines, please visit
Step 2: Articles aimed at JSOCM should be submitted via Scholar One. Authors must indicate the paper is submitted for this Special Issue in the submission process.
Step 3: Manuscripts will undergo a blind peer-review process. We hope to notify authors of the review outcome in March 2019. Authors may need to revise their papers following the initial review.
Step 4: Following additional rounds of revision as needed, final papers must be submitted in May 2019 for inclusion in Volume 9, Issue 4 of JSOCM.


Gordon, R., Russell-Bennett, R. and Lefebvre, C. (2016) “Social marketing: the state of play and brokering the way forward”, Journal of Marketing Management, 32(11-12), 1059-1082.
iSMA, ESMA, & AASM. (2013). Consensus definition of social marketing. Retrieved from
Kennedy, A. M. (2016) “Macro-social marketing”, Journal of Macromarketing, 36(3), 354-365.
Kennedy, A. M. and Parsons, A. (2014) “Social engineering and social marketing: why is one “good” and the other “bad”?”, Journal of Social Marketing, 4(3), 198-209.
Kennedy, A., Kapitan, S., Bajaj, N., Bakonyi, A., Sands, S. (2017) Uncovering wicked problem’s system structure: seeing the forest for the trees, Journal of Social Marketing, 7(1).
Rittel, H.W., and Weber, M.M. (1973) “Dilemmas in a general theory of planning”, Policy Sciences, 4(2), 155-169.
Szablewska, N. and Kubacki, K. (2018) “A human rights-based approach to the social good in social marketing”, Journal of Business Ethics, available at:
Tapp, A. and Spotswood, F. (2013) “From the 4Ps to COM-SM: Reconfiguring the social marketing mix”, Journal of Social Marketing, 3(3), 206–222.