What’s CSR got to do with marketing

In a CSR – corporate social responsibility – conference in Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University I present myself, and my fellow researcher says: “and so what are you doing in the CSR conference then?” Rightly so, since the born of marketing and despite the different trends and movements, marketing has been considered generally as some kind of activity to sell more, thus, far away from CSR or any kind of societal responsibility.


The latest definition of marketing, however, states that it is “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large” (AMA 2013 definition of marketing), thus, giving a broader view than only the world of producers, suppliers and customers. Yet, marketing has its own devoted and well-established circles of societal impact and responsibility.

As early as in the 1950s, Wiebe wrote “Why can’t you sell brotherhood and rational thinking like you sell soap?” (1951:679). The field of thought, social marketing, was born. Social marketing uses marketing tools to promote an idea or behavioral change such as healthy lifestyles, no-smoking, less alcohol drinking, and so on. It also aims to drive issues to “greater societal good”: “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.” (iSMA, ESMA and AASM)

So, early on, marketing got to do with social responsibility by selling such.

In addition, marketing researchers did not only develop marketing tools to address societal issues or change behavior in practice. Also, marketing scholars organized themselves in the 70s to study how marketing or business in general influences society and how society influences marketing or business in general. A field of thought, micromarketing, was born. Ever since macromarketing scholars have not only developed the Journal of Macromarketing but covered issues like well-being, marketing ethics, sustainability, and development, among others.

So, later on, marketing got to do with social responsibility by studying it.

More recent approaches, transformative consumer research and transformative services research, have started to look at the consumer behavior and services that do change society or human beings. In a way, implicitly these lines of either research or practical work combine both social marketing and macromarketing by seeking for behavior change and studying such. May we call these different trends in marketing social, macro or transformative they all seek to make societal solutions or study them to make our globe a better place to live.

That’s what CSR got to do with marketing!

Pia Polsa
Associate Professor in Marketing

Photo: Ana Tavares / Unsplash