After more than two decades as a marketing professor at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, Alan Andreasen retired in June 2015. The school’s marketing faculty, led by Area Coordinator and Professor Rebecca Hamilton, recently honored the man known as “one of the fathers of social marketing” with a panel discussion on “Social Marketing in a Changing World” in the Hariri Building.

Designed to offer voices from both research and practice, the discussion also honored Andreasen’s accomplishments and contributions to the field. Moderated by Distinguished Professor of the Practice Bill Novelli, who first worked with Andreasen on issues of smoking cessation and breast cancer prevention during his time at Porter Novelli, the panel included Ron Hill, the Richard J. and Barbara Naclerio Endowed Chair at the Villanova School of Business; Michael Ramah, former chief client officer, acting CEO, and global director of strategy at Porter Novelli; Beverly Schwarz, vice president of global marketing at Ashoka; and Julie Ozanne, professor of marketing at the University of Melbourne.

Novelli kicked off the panel discussion by asking the panelists and audience to consider whether social marketing is keeping up and staying effective “while the world is … changing in the face of migrations, pandemics, rising social inequality, and the spread of technologies.” As panelists answered, they also took time to relate their experiences with and affection for Andreasen, observing that his contributions had shaped their own research and views on social marketing.

In response, Hill turned to something Andreasen had taught him as a marketing student four decades earlier that he continues to reflect upon: “You cannot separate out the systemic conditions that people in poverty live in from how they make their decisions. Those decisions may not make sense to us from our lens, but they do make sense from theirs.”

Schwartz recollected that while developing an AIDS/HIV campaign, she had been lost until she found Andreasen’s book The Disadvantaged Consumer, which allowed her to “better understand the path she wanted to take on social marketing and how the enduring significance of social marketing allows those in business, particularly those studying it, to find the set of tools they need to do well in business and have happier, more fulfilling careers.” 

She felt that huge strides have been made on many issues by diverse populations. Certainly there are access and infrastructure problems that remain and we have not yet attained a systemic change on many fronts, she said. But if we look at smoking, obesity, or food access, we realize that people are paying attention. Social marketing has become much more sophisticated.

Ramah, who noted that he and Andreasen worked together in Mexico to create a report that he still distributes to new recruits at Porter Novelli to help them understand the firm, said that he is frustrated with the broadly held view that social marketing is code for a social safety net program. Instead, he argued, social marketing is the application of a set of tools against a social problem.

Ozanne, who also was inspired by The Disadvantaged Consumer, is positive about the enduring significance of social marketing as it allows those in business, particularly those studying it, to find the set of tools they need to do good in business and have more fulfilling careers.

During the program, Andreasen also spoke, tracing his career in social marketing back to urban riots in Buffalo and Vietnam War protests – events that made him rethink the traditional marketing and business school career he had begun to chart for himself. He also asked event participants to look to the future.

“While it is encouraging and rewarding to see social marketing work have a social impact, we must be cognizant of our obligations to advance the science as well,” Andreasen said. “How does any particular study advance our understanding of behavior?” He urged the group to think of social marketing as a place to advance the science of behavior change.

David A. Thomas, dean of the Georgetown McDonough School of Business, offered closing remarks, noting that the presence of a mind like Andreasen’s reminded him of the potential that Georgetown McDonough holds as an institution.

Noting that the panel discussion left him “hopeful and inspired about the emerging scholarship from the institution,” he further remarked that “few leave behind them a body of work as significant as Professor Andreasen’s, having built a big idea that fired the imagination and work of others that would be influential in shaping practice and discourse.”