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Social marketing and social contracts: applying integrative social contracts theory to ethical issus in social marketing



Publication Year



The practice of social marketing is generally founded on good intentions. Nonetheless, in seeking to do good, social marketers can face many ethical issues. Indeed, as later discussed, in some respects there may be greater scope for unethical practice in social marketing than in for-profit marketing by business. This chapter illustrates the range of ethical issues arising in social marketing and examines the potential of normative marketing ethics to inform decisions about these issues. More specifically, it explores the possible application of social contract theory to social marketing. Social marketers can confront many of the same ethical issues as commercial marketers. Accordingly, the broader topic of ethics in marketing is introduced in the next section, followed by a more focused discussion of ethics in social marketing. Having considered the potential of the major approaches to ethical issues from the marketing ethics literature, more specific attention is given to social contract theory in the next section. Social contract theory is gaining increased recognition within business ethics, particularly in a specific formulation known as Integrative Social Contract Theory (Donaldson and Dunfee 1994; 1995). ISCT's focus on communities and their norms makes this approach particularly appropriate to social marketing because it often involves competing claims of different communities. Following an overview of ISCT, the chapter discusses how the theory might be applied to a family planning social marketing campaign. The chapter concludes with a discussion of ISCT's strengths and limitations in application to social marketing.

Publication Research Centre

Centre for Marketing

Series Number



Centre for Marketing Working Paper

Available on ECCH


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