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Beyond persuasion: A cultural perspective of behaviour

Spotswood, Fiona; Tapp, Alan


Fiona Spotswood


Purpose: This research suggests that understanding problem behaviours through a cultural lens may offer multifarious layers of insight and provide opportunities for more effective intervention than the classical psychological perspective and cognitive models. The paper aims to discuss these issues. Design/methodology/approach: In this ethnographic study of a deprived community in North West England, physical activity behaviours were researched through participant observation. Field notes were analysed using retroductive reasoning, with Bourdieu's "habitus" as a theoretical framework to guide a cultural understanding. Findings: This approach led to the identification of cultural mechanisms which influenced the observed lack of physical activity, and which would have been difficult to identify with a psychological theoretical base. These included a lack of perspective, participation and control. These mechanisms led to the observed preoccupations with family survival, withdrawal and fantasy, instant pleasure and image management. Practical implications: This paper argues that the identification of these mechanisms through culturally grounded analysis suggests that cognitive models are limited in scope and that the simple "marketing exchange" and favoured social marketing 4Ps approach is unlikely to make a significant impact on behaviour. Originality/value: Social marketers tend to rely on overtly cognitive models to underpin their audience research and intervention planning, and in alignment with the field's definition, social marketing interventions tend to rely on the voluntary engagement of the target audience in the "exchange" or marketing offer. In contrast, this research suggests culture change is a logical intervention approach, but it would contravene the existing definition of social marketing. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.


Spotswood, F., & Tapp, A. (2013). Beyond persuasion: A cultural perspective of behaviour. Journal of Social Marketing, 3(3), 275-294.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Oct 1, 2013
Journal Journal of Social Marketing
Print ISSN 2042-6763
Electronic ISSN 2042-6771
Publisher Emerald
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 3
Issue 3
Pages 275-294
Keywords social marketing, culture, ethnography, habitus, social class
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Additional Information : This won the Journal of Social Marketing Highly Commended Paper Award for 2014.