Social marketing and its 4 Ps: Case study of FON

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1. Profile of FON

Friends of Nature (FON), which was set up in March 31, 1994, is one of the most influential non-for-profit environmental protection organizations in China. It is also one of the earliest civil environmental protection organizations in China. Over a decade of stable development, with a good member mechanism, Friends of Nature accumulated of more than ten thousand members, including more than 3,000 active members, and nearly 30 group memberships. They are working hard in building a platform for public participation in environmental protection, and helping people to convert thier awareness of environmental protection into conscious action. On one hand, FON advocates and promotes ecological civilization and environmental education with purpose of the sustainable development; on the other hand, it also promotes exchange communication and co-operation between environmental NGOs to do contribution together to China’s environmental protection and the development of civil society.

As one of most influential and successful non-for-profit environmental protection organization in China, the social marketing plays a vital role in the development of Friends of Nature and even in the environmental protection field. In the following, I will discuss how the utilization of marketing’s 4Ps in its social marketing can be helpful in understanding the business model of Friends of Nature in the area of environmental protection.

2. Social marketing and its 4 Ps

The major difference between traditional marketing and social marketing is that in social marketing, the marketing principles were being used to sell products to consumers could be used to “sell” ideas, attitudes and behaviors. By Kotler and Andreasen, the social marketing is defined as “differing from other areas of marketing only with respect to the objectives of the marketer and his or her organization. Social marketing seeks to influence social behaviors not to benefit the marketer, but to benefit the target audience and the general society.” (Kotler & Zaltman 1971). Below this part of easy, I will focuses on the 4Ps of social marketing in the actual uses with the FON as a case study.

2.1 Product

The social marketing “product” is not necessarily a physical offering. A continuum of products exists, ranging from tangible, physical products (e.g. green products), to services (e.g. awareness-raising campaigns such as photo exhibitions and publications), practices (e.g. environmental education through camps, field trips) and finally, more intangible ideas (e.g. awareness of environmental and endangered species protection). There are a lot of products which provided by FON, here I will take three of them for the examples.

Firstly, FON promotes the traditional physical product which with green concept, such as green bags and environmental portable chopsticks. According to statistics, in each year, around 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. As we know, plastic bags are difficult and costly to recycle and most end up on landfill sites where they take around 300 years to photodegrade. They break down into tiny toxic particles that contaminate the soil and waterways and enter the food chain when animals accidentally ingest them. But the problems surrounding waste plastic bags starts long before they photodegrade. Our planet is becoming increasingly polluted by our unnecessary use of plastic bags (Putatunda, 2010). Therefore, the cloth bag which also called green bag was promoted strongly instead of one time use plastic bag. We are happy to see that more and more people choose to bring their own green bag to go shopping. One the other hand, an estimated 25 million trees and bamboo plants are used each year for the flimsy, single-use chopsticks that you can find in almost every Chinese eatery. Although single-use chopsticks may be a convenient option for restaurant owners and patrons alike, we should also taking initiative to counter their use (Leow, 2008). Therefore, taking environmental portable chopsticks is a good choice for people who have outside meal. FON advocates that environmental protection, just starts from such little things in our daily life.

Figure 1.0 Environmental friendly products and Green Map

The second product is the Green Map, which consists of icons with a world-wide standard that are clearly marked on the map, shows the environmental, ecological and cultural attractions in the daily life. It helps us to find out the familiar green resources around us which may be overlooked, and re-understand that we can have a healthier, more environmental and friendly way of life in the chaotic and crowded city. Since 1992, the first “Green Map” – New York City Green Map (Green Apple Map) was born, the concept of green space plan has taken root in every continents. And today, more than 300 countries and regions set up Green Map group, and 274 copies of the public Green Map were published. FON is the first official partner of Green Map System in China. FON hopes that, by “Green Map” project, the green culture concept could be promoted, and also develop a set of activities to encourage voluntary participation in the environmental protection; meanwhile, use it as the tools and ways to participate in caring, studying and monitoring the change of community. At the same time, the “Green Map” products, made by spontaneous collaboration of volunteers, as the business cards with Beijing feature, will become a propaganda media to introduce the Beijing community and convey the concept of environmental and humanistic spirit.

The last one is FON Green Hope action, which is the activity cooperating with the China Youth Development Foundation, it is financially supported by the German Misereor Foundation for Social Development, volunteers will go to the Hope primary schools to lead the students to carry out experiencing, participating environmental education curriculum, enhance the caring awareness of kids to the environment, participation in environmental protection action. This is a non-profit social welfare activities that relying mainly on volunteers to promote. Since the project began in 2000, in nine years, this team has sent nearly a hundred volunteer groups, the three hundred plus trained volunteers to the two hundred Hope primary schools around 22 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions. There were more than 2000 students and teachers participating into the Green Hope action and effectively improved their environmental protection awareness.

2.2 Price

The price concept refer to what the consumer must do or pay to get the social product that provided by the organizations (Weinreich 2006). The price can be money that paid to time and effort that sacrificed by individuals, and even risks that bored. With the analysis above, there are many ways in which individuals as the major supporters of FON can provide help to obtain the social products to do contribution to environmental protection.

Firstly, donating money to FON is one way to help FON. A lot of work in FON is carried out by the partners, sponsors and the support of community donations. Donations, especially regular donations are very helpful to stabilize the financial situation of NGO, so that they can have the ability to work in a long-term planning, and work to do even better. The donations categories include Activity funds, office equipment, environmental books, and professional services and so on. And donation can be made through various payment ways such as donation by post.

Secondly, become a volunteer or member of FON is the most helpful way for FON. By becoming a member of FON, people would be able to provide support by carrying the tasks and actions designed by FON such as hold photo exhibitions and communication conference for awareness-raising campaigns, participate and organize environmental education through camps or field trips, edit green publication and so on.

Furthermore, people can help reduce the pollution in our daily life. Use less tissues and other products that are made up of woods or will contribute to deforestation can help reduce the deforestation, such as single use chopsticks as mention above; and also prepare own green bag to do shopping also can reduce plastic bag pollution. Besides that, take more public transportation or bicycle if possible can also assist reaching the target of reducing the oil consumption which generates carbon dioxide. And saving energy is another important environmental protection consciousness, by consuming less and save up electricity for example, if adopted by everyone globally will finally attributing to the decreasing of the total energy demand which fundamentally solve the problem of climate changes.

2.3 Place
“Place” describes the way that the product reaches the consumer. For a tangible product, this refers to the distribution system–including the warehouse, trucks, sales force, retail outlets where it is sold, or places where it is given out for free. For an intangible product, place is less clear-cut, but refers to decisions about the channels through which consumers are reached with information or training.
First of all, there are several kinds of end users which will require different way of distribution of the social products from FON. For the government who has the environmental policy decision-making and other NGOs, FON communicates with them by publishing China Annual Environment Developing Report and organizing communication conference. For the industry companies and organizations, FON promote the product by offering the “Green Choice” handbook. This little green handbook includes “conservation”, “reduce pollution,” “recycling”, “green consumption” four themes, more than 200 practical guides for green living. On the one hand, for the individuals, besides the member mechanism, FON use many ways to encourage their participating in the FON’s movements to strive for the environment protection. People can obtain the news and knowledge of FON by visiting its official website or by mail. FON also takes Hope primary school and city community as main places to develop environmental protection awareness education.

Figure 2.0 “Green Choice” handbooks

2.4 Promotion

Finally, the last “P” is promotion. The promotion mix usually contains personal selling, direct mail, sales promotion, exhibitions, public relations, advertising and sponsorship. And for the social marketing, considering the fact that many social products and ideas provided by the non-for-profit organizations are pretty professional and not very much interesting, the promotion strategy to communicate the people with the importance of the social products is very critical. There are many usual marketing mixes that are used by the FON such as public relations, exhibitions and internet marketing.

On the public relation side, FON has natural advantage for the relationship with government, due to the founders and the main organizers of FON all are the formal or present official staff working for government. Therefore, it keeps a close and good relationship with government decision-making and gets a great support from the government. Meanwhile, it also gets a frequent cooperation with other NGOs, do the promotion activities for each others. On the media side, it uses internet media as the main channel, assisting with environmental field paper publication to promote the products and green concept. Besides that, FON sends “Green Choice” handbook for free to the industrial companies and organizations, to keep communication and establish good relationship with them. Last but not least, it actively participated in the social affairs, such as Hope primary school project, Panda protection project and “5.12” earthquake reconstruction, has accumulated of brand reputation in the public society.

Exhibition is another effective way for FON to take environmental awareness education for the public. Not only in community, but also in school, the vivid photo and video record both are effective media to awoken people’s awareness of environmental protection.
As I mentioned, FON owns an organized member mechanism, these members and volunteers have formed a strong relationship network for promotion. Within it, the internet marketing plays an important role for the marketing promotion for FON. There is a regular electronic magazine provided automatically for members by email, and the forum is the main place for member to communicate with each other. With the help of strong internet function, the member of FON can easily share the news and activities happening in FON with their friends or release on the main stream internet media and forum. As a famous NGO in China, the omnipotent search engines offer a huge promotion power for FON. Certainly, internet market is the most useful promotion channels for FON. And on the left is a print ad that designed to express the idea of green life that encouraged by FON.
Figure 3.0: FON print ad

3. Evaluation of the use of social marketing

There are advantages and disadvantages to using the social marketing to promote social changes.

3.1 Advantages

To be the first, the social marketing creates a more comprehensive and two way communication with the target audience. In traditionally, the audience just plays the role in information receiver to received information from seller passively; now, the seller also can get feedback from audience and can communicate with audience to get the needs of audience. It is very helpful for developing the target market.

The second advantage is that social marketing is effective in promoting social changes; in other words, it is so effective in changing public behavior. With the help of internet and information technology, it is very easy for the target audience to get the information or ideas which the NGOs want to give.

3.2 Disadvantages

Conversely, one of disadvantages for social marketing is that the high cost on the social marketing activities. As the non-profit organization, NGOs also have to spend a lot of money on the holding activities, advertisement, exhibitions and so on. Sometimes, the difference of social marketing and traditional business marketing are become smaller and smaller. It sounds to be against the initial purpose for establishing NGO, which is benefit for public and society. Therefore, how to balance the advantage and disadvantage is a problem the NGOs need to think about seriously.


Friends of Nature, FON website, [Online] source:

Kotler, P, Zaltman, G. 1971, Social Marketing: An Approach to Planned Social Change, Journal of Marketing 35:3-12.

Weinreich, Nedra Kline 2006, What is Social Marketing? [Online] source:

Rita Putatunda, 2010, Environmental Pollution: The Harmful Effects of Plastic Bags, [Online] source:

Sean Leow, 2008, Chinese DIY Designers Fight Single-Use Chopsticks,
[Online] source:

Chinese DIY Designers Fight Single-Use Chopsticks