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The role of sociology in marketing

September 1, 2023 | By The Dairy
The role of sociology in marketing

Sociology can be defined as the study of the development, structure and functioning of human society. It focuses on the cultural, economic and social aspect of individuals in a community to understand why they behave and act in a certain way.

Marketing takes a similar perspective to sociology and focuses on understanding society in order to build a relationship between brands and customers in order to prompt an action.

The use of sociological perspectives allows marketers to understand patterns of behaviour and values that exist within society – providing specific access to crucial data about target audiences.

When people traditionally consider the marketing industry, they might think of the connections that exist with the economic and financial sectors for example.

However, unconscious marketing strategy and action has been used in sociology for a long time and can be classed as a social scientific discipline through its study of behavioural relationships.

The use of the sociological imagination in a marketing campaign allows businesses to understand how they are going to interact with target audiences in order to receive the most beneficial results and increase consumption. Building this relationship allows marketers to examine the extent to which products or services are compatible with pre-existing habits and values that currently exist within society.

A campaign where marketing failed to understand sociological perspectives

In McDonalds’ most recent advertisement in India, it showed a male customer trying to order a McVeggie burger from a female member of staff.

The advert shows a male customer trying to woo a female member of staff and when asked to order with a male manager instead, refuses to do so. The customer is then shown glancing at the female member of staff whilst eating his burger.

When this advertisement was released it caused a considerable amount of controversy, with many people arguing that the advert encouraged harassment and inappropriate behaviour. McDonalds’ strategy of trying to tell a love story, badly backfired due to its lack of social awareness.

Another McDonalds’ campaign badly missed the mark when it featured a beef burger on its menu. While this might be considered the norm in the west, in India, cows are seen as sacred. A lack of cultural awareness and sociological research for this campaign caused McDonalds’ initial launch to fail in the Indian community. A simple solution would have been to conduct thorough social and cultural research first in order to understand the values of its target audiences.

The correct application of sociological perspectives

One brand which has succeeded in using sociology in its marketing is Nike, when it acknowledged the importance of the Blacks Lives Matter Movement following the upsetting news surrounding the death of George Floyd in 2020.

Nike’s slogan is ‘Just do it’ but for one campaign they changed it to ‘For once, Just don’t do it’. The campaign was launched with a series of social media posts that emphasised the serious race problems occurring in America. The awareness of societal issues within the campaign proved to be a resounding success with consumers, with 98% of 16 to 49 year olds finding it more empowering than previous Nike campaigns.

Another campaign to successfully show sociological awareness came from Airbnb in 2018 after then US President Donald Trump, decided to close borders to refugees. Airbnb therefore decided to create a campaign in support of refugees. It was titled ‘We accept’ and represented a wide range of races and ethnicities – emphasising that as a company it does not discriminate.

Airbnb has also reached out to 100,000 refugees and asylum seekers to offer free temporary housing. This move has enhanced the brand’s reputation and improved the value of the company within local communities thanks to its efforts to eradicate social corruption.

We can see from these examples how marketing can really benefit from sociology – enhancing the ability of individuals to think analytically and critically.

This thinking process can be particularly useful when brand teams and marketing agencies are building both marketing and digital strategies. The case studies discussed are just a small sample of how sociology can be adapted to maximise marketing success – but there’s still plenty more work for brands to do in this area in order to support positive societal change.


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