Social Marketing for Family Planning: A Strategy That Works

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By Christopher Perdy, President of DKT International

Family planning is one of the best ways to improve people’s lives, and one of the most cost-effective. The Copenhagen Consensus Center, a think tank that researches and publishes the smartest solutions for the world’s biggest problems, agrees and has shortlisted comprehensive family planning as one of 19 targets that represent the best value-for-money in development, and one that will return $120 for every dollar invested.

Early in my social marketing career, I took over management of a social marketing program in Ethiopia distributing a range of products for family planning and HIV prevention. Excited to get out of the office and see our work in action, I headed out on a trip to southern Ethiopia. During a visit to a rural pharmacy there, my conversation with the pharmacist was interrupted by a woman who, unruffled by the presence of a foreigner, marched up to the counter, asked for package of DKT’s contraceptives, paid her money and went on her way.

That moment was an epiphany for me, as it showed clearly the benefits of social marketing (using the techniques of commercial marketing for a social purpose) and how it works. Social marketing is about changing behavior in socially desirable ways. That behavior change can be delivered through an idea or product. At DKT International, the social marketing organization I lead, we do it mostly through the sale of contraceptives.

A social marketing transaction works like this: an attractively packaged product is made accessible and available on the shelves of the places where normal people shop (pharmacies, supermarkets, clinics).  It is priced affordably so that the average woman and man are not burdened by the cost. And it is heavily promoted and advertised using mass and digital media so that consumers know about and want the product.  The product provides a major benefit such as child spacing by adopting an easy-to-understand behavior.  This strategy is simple and highly effective.

Family planning is one of the best ways to improve people’s lives, and one of the most cost-effective. The Copenhagen Consensus Center, a think tank that researches and publishes the smartest solutions for the world’s biggest problems, agrees and has shortlisted comprehensive family planning as one of 19 targets that represent the best value-for-money in development, and one that will return $120 for every dollar invested.

Throughout the world, social marketing programs have proven successful in promoting family planning. The social marketing of family planning products and services has several unique advantages:

  • It is fast. Because social marketing relies on existing commercial and health service delivery networks, it can be scaled up quickly, providing contraceptives to tens of thousands of outlets in just a year or two.
  • It is non-patronizing. Social marketing of contraceptives is not perceived as a “program” by consumers; rather; it is seen as the sale of normal commercial goods that offer consumers a benefit at an affordable price.
  • It is highly cost-effective. Because social marketing products and services are purchased, they are more likely to be used than those given away for free.

Last year in Nigeria, we launched a social marketing program to increase access to long-acting, reversible contraceptives. In 2015, this program provided products and services to more than 1.5 million couples.  In addition, a special outreach program established ‘pop-up’ clinics in churches, mosques, and market places, serving 2,000 women, 66 percent of whom were first-time users of modern contraception.

In Brazil, where 24 percent of the population is under 15, our social marketing program promotes the use of condoms among young people with its strong presence on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Additionally, DKT Brazil continues to fund the non-profit program Multiplier Youth, which targets high school students, promoting condoms and increasing awareness of family planning services and prevention of sexually-transmitted infections. In 2015, Brazil sold its 1.5 billionth condom.

We always adapt our programs to the environments where we are working. Sometimes our approach is very high tech, such as in Brazil and Turkey. But sometimes, such as in India, we take a decidedly low tech approach because that is the best way to reach our target audiences.

Whether it is effective use of social media to reach young people or on-the-ground tactics that reach underserved populations where they live, DKT International will continue in 2016 to identify and implement the most effective strategies to reach our clients through creative social marketing.

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