Purpose - This paper aims to present a definition of social marketing that considers the purpose and role of social marketing beyond behaviour change. Design/methodology/approach - The paper reviews present social marketing definitions and then bolsters its underlying theoretical structure with insights distilled from three schools of thought: macromarketing, transformative consumer research and the capability approach. Findings - Guided by the three theoretical streams, we introduce our definition, namely: social marketing is the application of marketing principles to enable individual and collective ideas and actions in the pursuit of effective, efficient, equitable, fair and sustained social transformation. Practical implications - We present a list of practical implications derived from our definition of social marketing. We stress that our social marketing definition better reflects the need to balance the effects (efficiency and effectiveness) and the process (equity, fairness and sustainability) of social marketing practices. By our definition of social marketing, the marketer becomes a facilitator and participant rather than a behaviour change agent. Originality/value - The paper introduces into social marketing three streams of thought that represent the most contemporary aspects of economic, market and consumer philosophy. We believe our definition can better guide social marketing in its quest to transform societies to be capable, free, equitable, fair and sustainable.