Engaging Marketing in the Sustainable Development Goals – Experiences from Griffith Business School

A picture from Blurred Minds, one of the behaviour change programmes run by Griffith

There are many common themes across the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Change is one of those, and more specifically, bringing about changes in behavior. This is particularly relevant to the SDGs relating to good health and well-being (SDG 3).

Within the business school environment, developing and disseminating messages that will bring about positive changes in communities is increasingly being discussed in marketing classes and in a new generation of classes dedicated to using marketing to deliver social change. According to Prof. Sharyn Rundle-Thiele centres like Griffith Business School’s Social Marketing @ Griffith focus their work on “delivering change that is valued by all”. I spoke with Sharyn about some of the work they are doing at the Social Marketing @ Griffith around this topic in Australia and beyond.

Why focus on Social Marketing?

We work with people in communities, decision makers and a range of on ground project stakeholders.  Our focus is on finding value for all that are involved. We work to understand how we can bring more people together to deliver changes that people will support.  This is different from some approaches that are driven by decision makers and not welcomed in the community.

Introduce the Social Marketing Centre?

Social Marketing @ Griffith staff are globally recognised as leaders in the social marketing field. We are the largest social marketing centre in the world. Our staff work on delivering change to benefit our community.

In 2018 our team numbered more than 40 social marketing researchers, practitioners and professionals from 19 countries. Some of the many issues we are working on include changing Australian drinking culture, lower tobacco smoking, increase physical activity, encourage healthy eating, increase financial literacy, preventing human trafficking and increasing dog training.

How is the Centre engaged in the Sustainable Development Goals?

Our work spans many of the SDG’s.  For example, one of our current projects in partnership with Johnson and Johnson Innovation and Griffith University is seeking to retain more women in Science, Maths and Engineering (STEM) university programs.  In this project we applied co-design and this behavioural insight work demonstrated that women only programs are exacerbating divides.  In 2019 we will be piloting gender bias training for Griffith University students and staff to understand if this can assist to retain more women in STEM programs.

What are some of the partnerships that the Centre has developed? 

We have worked with a wide range of local, State and Federal government departments, non-profits and organisations.  For example, 2019 marks our 10 year anniversary working with Queensland Catholic Education Commission. This partnership has assisted us to change alcohol drinking intentions for more than 4,000 students.

How does the Centre engage with students?

We have university students working in voluntary roles in the Centre.  Many of our Centre staff are Honours and PhD students.  Many of these students are funded by industry and government scholarships, which shows the value our partners place on our work.   We have also delivered programs in school settings working with primary and high school aged children and our team are experienced at working in school settings.

Is Social Marketing offered to students?

We have a range of Social Marketing courses on offer.  In 2019 we are offering Social Change: How can Marketing Help? on the MOOC platform Future Learn.  This free 2 week course starts on February 15th.  Griffith University currently offers one dedicated course in social marketing at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels.

What impact is the Centre having?

Our work has assisted Federal, State and local governments to change people and the environments to deliver positive outcomes.  Our research is published scientifically and we provide a wide range of training and networking opportunities. Our training equips people with the skills needed to engage communities to deliver lasting change.

Our work delivers health, environment and social change.  We achieve this during the implementation of our projects and we build resources and capabilities in communities to deliver lasting change.

Specific examples include:

  • Go Food delivered healthier meal choices for more than 6,000 people
  • Since 2010 Blurred Minds has changed knowledge, attitudes and alcohol binge drinking intentions for more than 4,000 14-16 South East Queensland adolescents
  • Heviilapset increased fruit and vegetable consumption for more than 1,700 5-12 year Finnish children
  • The Blurred Minds program is freely available online. Schools are able to access the teacher kit through our online inquiry function and support is provided by the Social Marketing @ Griffith project team (e.g. advice on how to play the games)  (2014-2016)
  • Selected Blurred Minds materials are now used by the Department of Education (Qld) in their Health and Physical Activity Curriculum.  This is available state wide to 183 Queensland high schools.  As many as 32% of schools have used these materials.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

Moving forward Business Schools need to focus teaching delivery to carefully ensure the curriculum places social and environmental understanding at the core of business operations. While economic growth can assist to alleviate poverty, excessive economic growth uncurbed over time creates social divides and over consumption depletes our planet. Sustainable development goals serve as a guide for all business educators. I believe that social marketing, and not traditional commercial marketing, should be the core in business curriculum.

In terms of research. Delivering projects that are built and delivered in partnership with community is rewarding. A teaching and research program that provides students with opportunities to gain hands on experience while positively contributing to society directly contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals.   While challenging this work is immensely rewarding.  People considered creating a similar Centre are welcome to spend time with the Social Marketing @ Griffith team to learn more about how lasting partnerships can be created to deliver social, health and environmental changes benefitting our communities.




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