Adverse Results of Social Marketing Initiatives


And Lessons Learned, Special issue of Social Marketing Quarterly; Deadline 30 Apr 2020

Special Issue Call for Papers – December 2020
Adverse Results of Social Marketing Initiatives and Lessons Learned
Guest Editors: Kathy Knox, PhD, and Tait Martin, PhD

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Albert Einstein

We’re bringing the skeletons out of the file drawer. SMQ is recruiting research articles, conceptual pieces and case studies on social marketing attempts that fell short in achieving stakeholder expectations. There is so much that we can learn from these initiatives—perhaps more than from our successes. In studying such experiences, our special issue contributes to contemporary thinking on publication bias in social marketing and beyond.

We define adverse results broadly: as a social change initiative that did not deliver positive outcomes, ROI or impact. Known as the ‘file drawer problem’ (Rosenthal, 1979), a positive results bias is likely observed in social marketing academe. We seek to disrupt business as usual, enticing authors to submit negative, contrary and inconclusive findings in the domain of marketing for social change.

We’re looking for researchers and practitioners to present research or practice examples on unsuccessful efforts, with an emphasis on lessons learned and the valuable insights that these experiences hold. Authors may choose to de-identify their work to protect community or client reputation.

We invite you to present a review, conceptual paper, empirical article, or case study. Irrespective of the nature of the paper, we encourage authors to address following questions: What went wrong? Why did it go wrong? What were the unintended consequences? How did you correct course? What can social marketers learn from your observations and experience? Why do we only publish successes and avoid sharing failures? These topics could be explored through power analyses, post-hoc statistical and methodological evaluations, qualitative interviews, or scale formation.

We want to hear about:

  • Disappointed Stakeholders
  • Complaining Communities
  • Hostile Audiences
  • Stigmatized Audience Groups
  • The attitude-behavior gap
  • Non-significant statistical models
  • Misunderstood findings
  • Ignored recommendations
  • The extent of publication bias in social marketing
  • Solutions and lessons learned

Mistakes happen. Let’s learn from them!

We encourage interested authors to address one of the following research questions in their articles, but you are welcome to explore other relevant questions as well:

  • What is the definition or boundary of an unsuccessful social marketing intervention?
  • Who defines success criteria? How do you proceed when other stakeholders disagree?
  • How can we avoid the file drawer phenomenon and publish unsuccessful studies without stigmatizing organizations or people?
  • What theoretical insights can we gain from negative findings, the absence of effects, poor model fit, and non-significant hypothesis testing?
  • How can failure inform future initiatives?
  • Are failures perceived or real? Who determines success and failure?
  • How can we prevent failure?
  • What is the extent of positive publication bias in social marketing?
    • What impact does publication bias have in social marketing?
  • Biological sciences publish null results or adverse results. Why don’t the social sciences?
    • Is there a discernible difference in publication bias across disciplines?
  • How is failure treated differently across cultures?
  • How should failures to reject the null hypothesis be presented?
  • Is there a difference between academics and practitioners in their willingness to publish failures?

Note: All manuscripts are reviewed upon submission. We will not hold manuscripts until the article deadline. Manuscripts accepted ahead of the issue’s publication date will be published online immediately through OnlineFirst.

Submission Process: For additional instructions on manuscript submission, please visit:

Manuscripts should be submitted through Manuscript Central (, our online submission software.

Point of Contact: To discuss ideas not mentioned above, or for any questions, please contact Tina Robinette (, managing editor of SMQ.

Deadline: Manuscripts must be submitted by April 30, 2020. Manuscripts submitted earlier will be processed immediately and published online upon acceptance.

References: Rosenthal, R. (1979). The file drawer problem and tolerance for null results. Psychological bulletin, 86(3), 638.