Health services should borrow marketing ideas from big companies like Nike and Coca-Cola to improve people\'s health, say experts in this week\'s BMJ.

The concept, known as social marketing, applies commercial marketing strategies to social good and has already been shown to be effective in changing health behaviour.

Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States all have social marketing facilities embedded high within their health services, and the UK government is about to develop the first social marketing strategy for health in England.

Studies show that social marketing campaigns are successful at the population level, for example in tackling alcohol, tobacco, and drug use.

And healthcare professionals have a crucial role in developing and implementing these projects. For example, the West of Scotland cancer awareness project, designed to encourage disadvantaged people with symptoms of bowel or mouth cancer to seek advice more quickly, involved over 2000 healthcare professionals.

Like commercial marketing, social marketing should aim to build ongoing, mutually beneficial relationships with us, say the authors. For example, stop smoking services could offer a Tesco-style loyalty card to successful quitters so they could persuade friends and family to use the services and be encouraged to think about their other health behaviours.

For decades, the health sector has watched as big companies have used marketing to wreak havoc on public health, write the authors. Social marketing enables us to fight fire with fire.

And health professionals can help by reinforcing social marketing messages during their direct and indirect contact with patients, they conclude.

?What social marketing can do for you'; BMJ Volume 332, pp 1207-10

BMJ-British Medical Journal