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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Social Marketing to Prevent Social Chaos

Ten years after terrorists set our world on fire on September 11,
2001, an even greater danger confronts our nation and our world. Our
society is at risk of exploding from the inside, based on myriad
social problems that are simmering hotter and hotter, with no end in

• Lack of psychological preparedness, among the average citizen, for
another attack
• Unpredictable and uncontrollable natural disasters for which we are
also poorly prepared
• Excessive polarization between rich and poor and the disappearance
of the middle class
• Disapproval of government, particularly of perceived waste and
repression, and hateful speech on all sides
• Continuing racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, ageism, and the social
invisibility of those with disabilities
• Brand marketing that nurtures jealousy and the personal feeling of
insecurity and inadequacy (unless you buy the product)
• Rampant sexual abuse, rape, and human trafficking
• The sexualization of children by marketers and thus, by each other
• Corporate control over mainstream media and the still-indirect
influence of bloggers
• The mass-market, standardized-test oriented state of our educational
system, leading to kids who can memorize but not think
• The proliferation of divorce and single parenthood, leading to
children who have raised themselves psychologically while
paradoxically being helicopter-parented physically – leading to an
impaired ability to cope independently with the stresses of life as
• Corruption by large institutions that used to form the bedrock of
society – government, business, religion, education, healthcare –
leading to a culture of mistrust and disrespect for authority
• Weariness over a “war on terrorism” that seemingly will never end,
and a generation of veterans with physical-emotional-financial scars
not truly aired or supported by society
• Health care so expensive that many go uninsured, praying that
“nothing bad happens”
• The promotion of “quick relief” (instant gratification) culture by
marketers – indirectly facilitating addiction and escapism into food,
alcohol, drugs, or whatever is available and will numb the pain –
unfortunately even suicide
• Overall, the death of the secure future – a world where parents make
no commitments either to be there or to provide financial stability;
boyfriends and girlfriends come and go; and where you’re lucky if you
get a job at all, let alone one that lasts long enough to pay off a
two-year lease on a car.

It is a long and depressing list. When you put it all together, it’s
almost staggering to comprehend. And the tipping point, of course, is
unemployment among the young.

For it is one thing when unhappy people have a job that takes their
mind off their problems, lets them be productive, and provides a means
to pay the bills independently.

But when unhappy people – particularly people who have sweated through
high school, college and graduate school – can’t get a job unless they
are in the top 10% of the Ivy League, that is a huge, huge problem.
For it is only a matter of time before those kids get fed up, have had
enough, and make the choice about how to adapt in a world that is not
set up to take care of them.

In this moment of national crisis – when things can go in any
direction – marketers are uniquely situated to put some salve on the
wounds before they explode. The first step, of course, is to
acknowledge the problem and to admit that we have played a significant
part in creating it. The second is to recognize the consequences if we
do not act - at the most basic level, if you want to be crass about
it, we will not have any customers left to buy things, because they
will be stealing them.

Just as the marketing community did after 9/11, it is time to commit
our resources to social marketing, at least in part. This is step
three – actually doing something as a group. If every marketing
organization were to commit even 5% of its time to some sort of pro
bono, social marketing work – where we simply helped to address any
pressing social problem – think about the soothing, balancing effect
that would have.

We can do this and we need to do it now. It’s a matter of our own
survival, as well as the nation’s.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!