The social marketing conceptual framework presented here demonstrates how EC, as initially designed,5
is consistent with the social marketing principles of product, place, price, and promotion. Recruitment for this first year of the BECT also provides a template for future social marketing campaigns based on national or community service programs that also serve as public health interventions. The messages developed in this first year of recruitment for the BECT—“Share your wisdom” and “Make a difference”—reflected the actual product of generative activity rather than the core product of increased physical, cognitive, and social activity. We demonstrated that a promotion message that appealed to leaving a legacy and contributing to the next generation could recruit older adults successfully across multiple strategies that included (1) word of mouth, (2) selective media such as community outreach and direct mail, and (3) mass media in the form of radio advertisements. Our recruitment results also confirmed 2 other aspects of the EC model: that the local public school represents a place that is attractive to older African American volunteers who are at high risk for poor health outcomes, and that although the associated stipend was important in overcoming the price or cost of high-intensity volunteering, it was not the primary motive for participation in the first year of the trial.
These recruitment results support the EC model of embedding health promotion programs in local community service programs, and demonstrate that these programs can be promoted through word of mouth, selective media, and mass media. There was some preliminary evidence for synergy between strategies, as 23% of participants reported more than 1 source of information. This is consistent with prior research reporting that individuals need to hear a message as many as 3 times before it registers.39
Given many older adults’ concerns about financial scams, we theorize that our most successful recruitment strategies were associated with trusted sources of information, such as a referral from a friend or a bulletin at religious services. Although word of mouth and local grassroots media channels were important recruitment strategies for this community-based model, we do not know if they would be as effective in recruitment for a national service program. Finally, although mass media is an important source of recruitment for this ongoing National Institute on Aging–sponsored trial, local community service programs would probably require outside support to be able to afford a mass media promotion campaign.
The marketing principles of product, price, place, and promotion can guide future research on national and community service–based public health interventions for older adults. The ongoing BECT will determine if this particular augmented product, EC, can not only promote physical, cognitive, and social activity but also prevent incident mobility-associated disability, falls, and memory loss and promote self-efficacy. In the end, this may lead to reduced health care costs among older adult participants.40
Future research on price should be done to determine the importance of specific barriers such as transportation and of benefits such as the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. This award can be used to support future education expenses of AmeriCorps members who have completed their term of service, or can be transferred to the grandchildren of AmeriCorps members who are aged 55 years or older. Additional research on place will be needed to determine the health potential of other civic engagement models, such as volunteering on public lands.41
Finally, although this analysis of the first year of the BECT further demonstrates the ability of a generative message to attract older adults, additional research will be required to measure the effectiveness of specific messages and strategies over time.
Social marketing interventions based on the EC model could serve to decrease the “structural lag” in our social institutions, in which older adults are currently provided insufficient postretirement opportunities that both are appealing and promote a healthy lifestyle. Commercial marketing has tended to focus on younger adults because they are perceived as being at a life stage when they are determining lifetime spending. Social marketers may find recently retired older adults particularly open to generative opportunities at a time when they are at increased risk of physical inactivity and social isolation.5,28,42,43
Increasing the visibility of older adult volunteers could also make volunteering more attractive to potential older volunteers by providing “social proof” to potential volunteers that other older adults are engaged in community service.33
This analysis has several limitations. It details the development of the initial recruitment strategies for the BECT and evaluates the feasibility of these strategies. Ongoing work in this area will result in an analysis of the comparative effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of specific strategies once recruitment for the BECT has been completed. Further research is required to determine how to best ascribe volunteer motives within the conceptual framework of generativity. Our recruitment resulted in a cohort composed predominately of older African American women. Although this could be seen as a limitation, there is a need for interventions that can attract groups that are underrepresented in most randomized controlled trials and are at high risk of physical inactivity or poor health outcomes.11,32
While we have demonstrated an ability to attract older African Americans, future research using the social marketing model could assist the development of new interventions that might appeal to other demographic groups. For example, a model for coaching sports among youths might attract more older men, and Spanish or Mandarin immersion schools might recruit older immigrant adults, who may be socially isolated, as tutors.44
Finally, the recruitment strategy described here was for a randomized controlled trial; recruitment for a volunteer program that does not involve randomization is likely to have a wider appeal.
Any expansion of national and community service should consider models designed to simultaneously serve as public health interventions. This approach could create a potential “win-win” situation for both older adults and society. EC demonstrates how marketing principles could be used to guide future health policy initiatives based on older adult national and community service. For example, although EC appeals to “generative motives,” other motives such as patriotism, social justice, or the environment might serve as the actual product in newly developed public health interventions. Although EC is a domestic civic engagement program, the Peace Corps has begun to recruit increasing numbers of middle-aged and older Americans, which opens the possibility of international service as a place for future interventions.45
Proposals such as “encore fellowships” would provide additional support for older adult volunteering and further reduce the cost or price of high-intensity volunteering.46
Finally, future promotion efforts would benefit from the associated authority of a trusted spokesperson or organization.33
One example is the “call to service” campaign on Martin Luther King Day in 2009 that featured, among other things, e-mails from the future First Lady, Michelle Obama. New models of national and community service that also serve as health promotion interventions need to be developed before the Baby Boom generation passes into the traditional age of retirement.