Social marketing in the new millennium



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There is a growing consensus within society that companies should take a more active and structured approach to the relationships they have with the various communities they serve. Corporate social responsibility is the way in which a company demonstrates its commitment to contributing something positive to its stakeholders and society.

Social marketing is a new approach to traditional marketing. It enables companies to fulfil their existing marketing needs (to produce the right goods, at the right time, in the right place, at the right price) while tackling social issues relevant to the company and its brands. Social marketing means that corporate investment will not only support communities, but also help to achieve key business objectives.

Current research indicates that the level of corporate commitment towards social issues significantly influences choice between different companies and brands. 86% of consumers agree that, when price and quality are equal, they are more likely to buy a product associated with a cause and would have a more positive image of a company if it is visibly doing something to make the world a better place. (Business in the Community/Research International, 1997)

Research also shows that customers and employees want to know about a company’s social programmes of activity.  In response to the question, ‘When forming an opinion about a company or organisation, how important is it to know about their activities in society and the community?’ 81% said ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ important, 19% said ‘unimportant’. (MORI Corporate Responsibility survey, 1997)

This case study examines Sky Television’s new youth initiative - 'Reach For The Sky' - and explains how a social marketing programme is important in the growth of a company’s brand.

 Social marketing strategy

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In order to develop a truly successful social marketing strategy, five golden rules apply:

1. Reflect core brand values
Consumers are more likely to understand and retain marketing messages if they make sense. This is especially true of social marketing; the cause or social issue, lying at the heart of the social marketing strategy must connect with the values of the brand or consumers will be sceptical. If the social marketing initiative brings the brand to life by highlighting its role in society, consumers will more readily accept it.

2. Perceived commercial benefit
Consumers accept that companies need to make money. Research shows that if customers can see the commercial benefit of community investment, they accept it - if not, they may become cynical and believe the company is trying to cover something up. In other words, consumers prefer companies to do good and get a return.

3. Single, powerful theme
Fragmented activity is confusing for employees and customers and is consequently less effective. If a company consistently tackles one relevant social issue it will hit home quicker and harder with customers and employees.

4. Mainstream, not margin
For a company’s community investment to be taken seriously, the social marketing approach needs to be integrated into everything the company does, from marketing to internal communication, from employee development to delivery of services.

5. Involve customers and employees
The social marketing strategy is dependent on bridging the gap between the company and its two key target audiences, employees and customers. It is imperative that both target audiences are consulted on a regular basis to ensure the resulting activity has both social and commercial impact.

Companies that follow the five golden rules of social marketing can create real business benefits, i.e. new loyal customers; increasing loyalty amongst existing customers; motivating and developing their employees and improving the corporate reputation.

 Meeting marketing objectives

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A decade has passed since Sky Television started the revolution in British television. UK television previously consisted of just four channels.  In 1989 Sky Television transformed television by offering a range of new and diverse channels. The following ten years were dedicated to increasing the Sky customer base. The company further developed the choice of programming on offer, established creative ways for the customer to access programmes and, in 1998, launched a revolutionary broadcasting platform: Sky digital.

Sky digital provides the best in choice, control and connection. Its technology enables consumers to watch what they want, when they want. The programming explosion currently includes a selection of 150 channels with pay per view movies, Sky Box Office Events and a multitude of niche channels for every interest.

Through the innovative technology of Open - the interactive service, viewers are also able to shop, bank and communicate through television. Sky Television’s business is about great entertainment, information, communication and the future.

Sky Television’s marketing objectives are typical of a young brand operating in a fast changing market place:

  • To attract new customers
  • To encourage loyalty, especially amongst existing customers
  • To develop the brand.

After ten years, Sky Television has firmly established itself as a leading brand in the UK broadcast marketplace. With a high brand prompted recognition of 81% and a customer base of 6.88 million which equates to 18.9 million potential viewers, there is no doubt consumers know who Sky is and what it does. (Continental Research, August 1999)

However, Sky is not complacent. Over such a long period of sustained growth, it is important that Sky reflects on the brand and explores new ways of progressing. By further developing the brand to bring it closer to the needs and aspirations of British people, Sky Television believes it will be more successful in attracting new customers and encouraging loyalty.

 Devising the strategy

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In devising the strategy, Sky focused on:

The brand

Sky’s brand values influence everything the company does and says. The Sky brand represents more than just television; it is about choice and making the most out of life.Sky’s brand values are:

  • creativity
  • choice
  • connection
  • entertaining
  • innovative.

The challenge

The social marketing challenge for Sky was to identify how its mission – to help its customers make the most out of life - could be extended beyond supplying its products and services. Sky Television needed to define a social marketing strategy that worked with its brand values.

Target audience

Having identified its objectives, Sky Television needed to ascertain the right target audience to support. It recognised from previous research that young people, in particular, were influenced by its programming and identified with its entrepreneurial, youthful brand. Subsequently, Sky set out to find the key issues facing today’s teens.

The social issue

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Discussions with opinion formers in education, the youth sector and the careers advisory service indicated that young people were suffering from a lack of inspirational advice and guidance on the range of future opportunities available to them. Much of the existing careers advice tended to neglect important factors such as individual talents, personalities and hobbies.

Sky commissioned quantitative research among 800 14-16 year olds across the UK to explore further teenagers’ thoughts about their futures. It discovered an overwhelming sense of optimism amongst the teenagers. However, half of those who said they would ideally like to work in a field that reflected their hobbies and passions were at a loss to name new sources to help them find a suitable opportunity to do so. Most of the sample relied on their parents for inspiration and information, although over 80% said they did not want to follow in their parents’ footsteps. (VA Research Limited, May 1999)

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This suggested there was a role for Sky Television to play in helping young people to explore the choices in their lives. By inspiring teenagers to think about their futures and showing them the range of opportunities available to them, Sky Television could assist young people to discover their potential.

A catalyst for change

Sky Television identified a link between helping young people explore their futures and the increasing public focus on the new millennium. As Sky is the Official Broadcast Sponsor of the Millennium Experience (the nation’s official millennium celebrations), Sky’s involvement presented the perfect launch pad for its social marketing programme, Reach For The Sky, an initiative to help young people ‘see what they can be’.

 Creating an integrated campaign

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Sky designed the Reach For The Sky initiative as an integrated media campaign, offering teenagers throughout the country the opportunity to recognise their hidden talents and see how they can be applied to a diverse range of career choices in the new millennium.

The Reach For The Sky programme consists of the following components:

  1. A series of inspirational television announcements, featuring teenagers facing up to their futures, is being broadcast across all of Sky Television’s channels to over 14 million viewers. The announcements display a freephone hotline number which teenagers, parents and friends can call to order the free Reach For The Sky magazine.
  2. Half a million copies of a 64 page youth magazine are available through various outlets and via a free phone number. The Reach For The Sky magazine includes a self awareness questionnaire designed to help young people recognise their hidden talents. The magazine is full of honest advice, hot tips and job profiles. It has been developed with the help of young people to offer information and ideas for future career choices, including courses they should pursue to meet their goals.
  3. For even more up-to-date information, young people can log on to the teen website at The site contains job profiles and the chance for teenagers to receive straight talking advice on their futures from the ‘Agony Aunt Panel’. The website is also hotlinked to other relevant information sites and its bulletin board offers young people the opportunity to swap advice and tips with others who have similar future aspirations.
  4. Commencing in 2000, the Reach For The Sky Awards offer young people from across the UK the chance to participate in hands-on career development workshops. There are six awards in total, each focusing on a different area of interest: journalism, science & technology, environment, music and entertainment, sport and community. Each of the awards is being developed by Sky Television in conjunction with experts in the relevant fields. The awards are designed to show young people that they do not have to be a fantastic sports person to work in sport, or a brilliant singer to work in the world of music and entertainment; as long as they are enthusiastic and committed, there is a range of opportunities that exist in each field.

Marketing the programme

Sky recognises that the key to the success of Reach For The Sky lies in Sky’s ability to communicate and deliver it to the key target audiences.

  • Primary target audience: all teens who will benefit directly from the programme.
  • Secondary target audience: parents who will benefit indirectly from the guidance received by their son/daughter.
  • Tertiary target audience: Sky Television employees.

Sky believes that through its efforts, each of these audiences will be more inclined to trust the brand and thus drive commercial purchases in the long term. Sky Television is targeting young people through advertising in teen magazines such as J17, Shoot and Bliss, in relevant radio slots such as the Capital Radio Revision Line and Atlantic 252 Revision Slots, as well as television announcements on MTV Select, Channel 5 Pepsi Chart Show and its own network of channels.

Parents are being targeted through television ads on Sky channels, print advertising in weekend newspaper supplements and Sky’s own magazine, Sky View. Sky is also marketing the initiative to traditional career markets such as teachers, youth workers and careers advisors who can help deliver the programme to large groups of young people.

Following the fifth golden rule of social marketing, Sky Television knew it was essential to both inform its employees and involve them in the Reach For The Sky programme. An internal communications campaign has made each member of staff aware of the programme, its aims and why Sky Television is investing in it. For further ‘hands on’ involvement, Sky Television employees will commit their time and expertise to act as mentors for the Reach For The Sky Awards in 2000.


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This case study explains the steps Sky Television took in developing a social marketing programme designed to inspire young people about themselves and their future opportunities.

Reach For The Sky is helping Sky to build its brand, attract new customers and encourage loyalty in existing customers by demonstrating a genuine commitment to the provision of more choice, creativity and connection with the communities it serves.

The next important stage is for the impact of Reach For The Sky to be evaluated. To do this, Sky is collating evidence of both the social and commercial benefits of the programme. It is finding out from teenagers and parents who have experienced the programme whether it was instrumental in helping them move on to the next stage of their lives. The company also intends to demonstrate how Reach For The Sky has affected Sky’s brand image and how the initiative has affected its employees.

All these questions will be analysed once the programme is in full stride, but the organisation acknowledges that they need to be answered to ensure that Reach For The Sky benefits both society and Sky’s development.

Sky | Social marketing in the new millennium