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South Carolina, Symbols, and Social Marketing

By Trish Olson, Director of Programs

Last week while I was “mentally preparing” to write this opening column, I thought, “I need to reflect on something like social marketing or GIS mapping rather than writing once again about culture, race, microaggressions, or FD’s concerted efforts to reach underserved populations.”

And then Wednesday came. Officials reported that a white gunman killed nine black churchgoers at an African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, SC. I thought, “How can I not acknowledge and reflect on this heinous act?” No information helps me “make sense” of this act, but an article — The GOP's uneasy relationship with the Confederate flag from the Washington Post — helped me think of symbolism in our world that is all around us and the influence it has blatantly, subtly, and even unconsciously.

So how can we change our world to influence the behavior of individuals and communities in a constructive way? Social marketing is one tool, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an amazing toolkit: Social Marketing Information. Social marketing is also used in combating racism such as the “It Stops With Me” campaign in Australia.


As Karen Shirer said recently, symbols must be chosen with care. “For,” as poet John Ciardi has written, “a symbol is like a rock dropped into a pool: it sends out ripples in all directions, and the ripples are in motion. Who can say where the last ripple disappears?”
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