Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to review the effectiveness of social marketing interventions in influencing individual behaviour and bringing about environmental and policy-level changes in relation to alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs and physical activity. Social marketing is the use of marketing concepts in programmes designed to influence the voluntary behaviour of target audiences in order to improve health and society. Design/methodology/approach - The paper is a review of systematic reviews and primary studies using pre-specified search and inclusion criteria. Social marketing interventions were defined as those which adopted specified social marketing principles in their development and implementation. Findings - The paper finds that a total of 54 interventions met the inclusion criteria. There was evidence that interventions adopting social marketing principles could be effective across a range of behaviours, with a range of target groups, in different settings, and can influence policy and professional practice as well as individuals. Research limitations/implications - As this was a systematic paper, the quality of included studies was reasonable and many were RCTs. However, many of the multi-component studies reported overall results only and research designs did not allow for the efficacy of different components to be compared. When reviewing social marketing effectiveness it is important not to rely solely on the "label" as social marketing is often misrepresented; there is a need for social marketers to clearly define their approach. Practical implications - The paper shows that social marketing can form an effective framework for behaviour change interventions and can provide a useful "toolkit" for organisations that are trying to change health behaviours. Originality/value - The research described in this paper represents one of the few systematic examinations of social marketing effectiveness and is based on a clear definition of "social marketing". It highlights both social marketing's potential to achieve change in different behavioural contexts and its ability to work at individual, environmental and wider policy levels.