Over 50 years ago, the psychologist G. D. Wiebe asked the question ‘Can brotherhood be sold like soap?’ In his paper, ‘Merchandising Commodities and Citizenship on Television’, Wiebe proposed that organizations which successfully ‘sell’ intangible social objects-such as goodwill, respect for the environment or community development-would be more successful if they sold their social objects the way marketers sell sports cars or mouth wash. To test this notion, Wiebe developed a set of five criteria (Table 1) and used them to evaluate how social campaigns compared to commercial marketing practices. After evaluating four social campaigns by his five criteria, Wiebe concluded that the more social campaigns resembled commercial marketing practices, the better their chance of success.

Beyond frequently quoting Wiebe’s famous question, his criteria were deemed success factors for non-profit campaigns by the marketing authority Philip Kotler who also compared them to marketing’s 4Ps-product, price, place, promotion-in his 1971 article where he coined the term ‘social marketing’. Although Wiebe’s criteria are over 50 years old, they still stand as success criteria for social campaigns; and with their conceptual relationship to the 4Ps-which are the primary behavioural exchange model used for social marketing (SM)-they provide a tested and relevant framework.

Table 1: Wiebe’s (1951) criteria for campaign success

Wiebe’s (1951) criteria Online application
Force: The intensity of a person’s motivation (both before and after experiencing campaign messages)
towards a campaigns goal
A person’s disposition towards
a social issue is the same online or offline
Direction: Knowledge of how and where to respond to a campaign’s message; or in other words, how to reach the social mechanism The clarity of an email, hyperlink,
site design or web advertisements that direct people to a website (social
Distance: An individual’s estimate of the time, energy and cost required to engage the social mechanism or achieve the behavioural goal The amount of time, energy and
hassle required to find a website and complete an online task
Social mechanism: The agency or place that enables people to translate motivations into actions A website or online application
where users can interact to complete behavioural goals
Adequacy: Ability and effectiveness of the social mechanism to help people act out the campaign’s behavioural goal The degree of credibility, and
intuitiveness of a website’s social mechanism

One meta-analysis that compared several web-based versus non-web-based health intervention studies showed that online programmes significantly increased participants’ knowledge and health related behaviour. A number of publications showcase counter campaigns that pit the ‘good guys’ against the ‘bad guys’ such as health campaigns against tobacco companies or drug use . The most promising research addresses online persuasion. For example, a person’s willingness to forward email is impacted by length, media attachments and positivity while website loyalty is impacted by usability, trust and user satisfaction. Using Wiebe’s five criteria as a framework, this paper presents the findings from a pilot study intended to identify factors of online campaigns that influence users’ behaviour.

Read the full article: Can Brotherhood be Sold Like Soap…Online?