Some people think social marketing is an import from the West, “discovered” by those who named it. Others see it as a universal approach to addressing social issues. The reality is nobody knows for sure. What we do know is that the Asia Pacific has a long tradition of social marketing practices and the first documented evidence of the deliberate use of marketing to address a social issue comes from a 1963 reproductive health program in Calcutta, India.
In 1965, a report was submitted to the Central Family Planning Board of the Government of India by Mr. K. T. Chandy, Director of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta. In presenting the report, Mr Chandy, perhaps rather modestly, suggested it may contain ways in which the existing marketing resources of the private sector could be marshalled to throw more weight behind the presently planned family planning drives.
The report was based on the work of the Central Family Planning Board, which in 1963 had set up an Evaluation Committee to examine India’s national family planning program and make suggestions for improvements. A subcommittee was organised and requested one of its members, Mr. Chandy, to call upon members of private industry in India to consider ways of extending the distribution of contraceptive services, especially the condom, through commercial channels.
In 1989 Phil Harvey founded DKT, which was named after another Indian social marketer, Dharmendra Kumar Tyagi (1928–1969). DK Tyagi was an Assistant Commissioner for the Indian Family Planning program. An early pioneer and champion of family planning in India and elsewhere, he invented the now-pervasive (in India and some other countries) “Red Triangle” symbol as a branding effort to familiarize and popularize the idea of family planning.
Many of the mass communication techniques DK Tyagi developed are now used throughout the developing world to combat disease (such as HIV/AIDS) and poverty. Part of the mission statement of the present-day foundation, DKT International, which was named in his honor reads – “He was 41 years old at the time of his death, but had already made a major contribution to his country’s family planning effort. It was he who was largely responsible for the design and dissemination of a massive communication program that brought awareness and knowledge of family planning to hundreds of millions of Indians. He began his work at a time (1966) when modern contraceptive methods were virtually unknown in rural India. His success in saturating the country with simple, attractive messages and designs (including the Red Triangle, which is now in use in several other countries) overcame age-old communication barriers and greatly increased public awareness of birth control.
The Indian initiatives were critical moments in Asia Pacific responses to the challenges of poverty. It was the first time that a developing country government embraced the effectiveness that marketing practices could bring to addressing social issues. This approach to poverty alleviation came to be known as social marketing. Variations of this approach were subsequently used throughout the region – for education in Indonesia, HIV prevention in Thailand, control of Avian Influenza in Vietnam and China plus many more. Today governments, NGOs, international agencies, businesses and other social change agents are using social marketing to address a wide variety of issues.