Ethical evaluation of audience segmentation in social marketing

Joshua Daniel Newton, Fiona Joy Newton, Tahir Turk, Michael Thomas Ewing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose - The ethicality of using audience segmentation in social marketing contexts has typically been framed within either a consequentialist or non-consequentialist perspective, leading to a hitherto intractable debate. This paper seeks to shed new light on this debate using two alternative ethical frameworks: the theory of just health care (TJHC) and integrative social contracts theory (ISCT). Design/methodology/approach - The paper uses cross-sectional survey data from a Kenyan social marketing campaign that aimed to increase awareness and support for the use of anti-retroviral therapy (ART), a class of drugs that inhibit the development of HIV. Findings - Application of the TJHC and ISCT to the Kenyan social marketing campaign revealed the use of audience segmentation to be ethically justified. Moreover, the TJHC provided a useful framework for guiding decisions about the selection of target audience(s) in health-related contexts. Practical implications - In situations where there are known asymmetries in exposure to mass media channels, adopting a non-segmented mass-media approach may unintentionally entrench pre-existing disparities in health knowledge. Originality/value - The application of the TJHC and ISCT to health-related social marketing contexts offers a means of resolving the longstanding debate about the ethicality of audience segmentation. The ethical principles underpinning the TJHC also provide a decision-making framework to guide discussions about whether audience segmentation should be based on cost-effectiveness (consequentialism) or need (non-consequentialism). This is particularly relevant in social marketing settings, where the resources available for conducting campaigns are often limited and segmentation decisions about the groups that are targeted or excluded can have important health-related implications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1421 - 1438
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Journal of Marketing
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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