Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools
You are here: Home Resources Publications Papers Using Marketing For Cultural Transformations – Part 1: Culture, Communication, Commerce and Change

Using Marketing For Cultural Transformations – Part 1: Culture, Communication, Commerce and Change

The Frank Fenner Foundation:

•    ‘is a catalyst for social change to bring about biosensitive societies which satisfy the needs of humankind and the Earth's ecosystems of which we are a part.’
•    ‘stands for biosensitive societies that manifest an understanding of and respect for the processes of life upon which we are entirely dependent.’

But how to be that catalyst and foster that understanding and respect seems to have proven to be a stumbling block. There is now renewed interest in the practicalities of catalysing change.

This is the first in a series of articles that I hope will spur practical discussion about how we might be a catalyst for the cultural transformation necessary for humans to survive and thrive into the future. The articles are based on a presentation I gave in February 2014 to the Foundation.  In them, I will draw on traditional fairytales, marketing, and practical empowerment movements. I will particularly focus on developing alternative images, stories and language that might replace the ones that currently dominate our world. Finally, I will introduce one model to stimulate discussion, creative thinking and research that is oriented towards the practicalities of change.


Culture and Communication

No matter how you define it, culture is about communication.

Culture is our way of life. It is passed from person to person, from one generation to another, by communication.  It is about what we communicate and how we communicate it, be it verbal or non-verbal. The emotions we attach to communications help to give them meaning.

Culture is also largely the narratives and stories we tell ourselves. Those stories help us to make sense of the world, our experiences and ourselves. Eventually the stories become our identity.

Fortunately, new stories can replace current stories.

For humans to survive and thrive in the face of current and forthcoming ecological crises – particularly climate change – we will need new stories. That is because we need to replace the stories, images, language and thinking that are causing so much harm that civilisation, and indeed life as we know it, is threatened. The new stories will need to be about what is needed, not merely what is seen as ‘possible’ within our current culture.

Before we look at how dominant stories have been replaced in the past, let’s look at how advertising and marketing effect change.


Effecting change

There is a sizeable body of work on how to go about effecting change. Many people work professionally in the field, and there’s a lot of research – much of it published –

and there’s a lot of experience that’s shared via a variety of avenues.  Much of the knowledge comes out of psychology, more comes out of advertising and marketing, and quite a bit has come out of project management and campaigning (including grass roots campaigning).

In this series of articles, I focus on how advertising and marketing might help us catalyse social change to bring about biosensitive societies.


Why learn from advertisers & marketers?

Why should we pay attention to advertisers and marketers? It’s because:


  • they are in the change industry – effecting change is their bread and butter;
  • they use psychology to influence behaviour and thinking;
  • their work is evidence-based;
  • they are creative; and
  • they can be very effective.


Shaping public opinion

Unfortunately, advertisers and marketers do not necessarily use their skills and knowledge for the greater good.

The campaigns of both the tobacco industry and the fossil fuel industry come to mind.

They set out to, in their own words, ‘develop a message and strategy for shaping public opinion on a national scale’. And it has worked – spectacularly.

As Al Gore has pointed out: ‘This manufactured campaign found a receptive audience among many citizens who would understandably prefer not to acknowledge the existence of such a frightening and potentially overwhelming threat as global climate change.’

It is important to note here that these campaigns made use of experts: commercial marketing experts.

Luckily, there are advertising and marketing experts that work for the greater good.


Social marketing is the branch of advertising and marketing that can best help us.

To quote that trusted source, Wikipedia, social marketing ‘seeks to develop and integrate marketing concepts with other approaches to influence behaviors that benefit individuals and communities for the greater social good.’

The body of work in social marketing is substantial, although it is nowhere near as big as that for advertising and marketing in general.


What can we learn from the commercial world?

The commercial world offers practical models of behavioural and cultural change. Of particular help is knowledge about the psychology of changing behaviour and models for influencing people.  That will be the subject of the next article in this series.


Gillian King