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The art of choosing and the politics of social marketing

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Social marketing is an increasingly popular method by which governments and public bodies deploy marketing principles and techniques in order to achieve ‘social goods’. This paper examines the close relationship between public sector social marketing, a policy mantra focused on ‘behaviour change’ and the political agenda of ‘libertarian paternalism’. Drawing on interview data with policy strategists, think tank professionals, social marketing advisors and civil servants, the paper argues that careful attention needs to be paid to the strategic governance issues raised by the use of social marketing tools in public policy, with a particular focus on the ethics of behavioural segmentation, context shaping and choice. We argue that there are serious ethical consequences to a public policy culture, which has become preoccupied with cultivating the arts of choosing within a methodological and theoretical framework dominated by the language, tools and techniques of behaviourism, marketisation and consumerism.
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Keywords: behaviour change; behavioural sciences; choice; public policy; segmentation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Geography & Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Llandinam Building, Penglais Campus, Aberystwyth, SY23 3DB, UK

Publication date: March 4, 2014

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