7 Ways To Improve Your Print Materials
I’d like to explore what research tells us about creating effective print materials for animal advocacy. It’s a question with big implications. Animal protection groups distribute billions of print materials every year, including fliers, leaflets, booklets, advertisements, newsletters, magazines, etc. These materials are a major investment for groups with limited funds, yet many are designed without any input from the target audience. Here are a few pointers based on the limited research available.
1. Choose Your Message Wisely
Animal advocates have a tendency to throw the kitchen sink at their target audience. Understandably, we want to ensure that something we say or write will resonate. But in a world full of advertisements and competing messages, people are looking for cues to dismiss your message and avoid internalizing it. This gives advocates very little time in which to capture someone’s attention and create a meaningful connection. If you try to appeal to everyone, you may end up appealing to no one. For instance, if you use both positive and negative animal imagery in your print materials, you may appeal to some while alienating others.
In one of our earliest studies, Faunalytics conducted a series of focus groups to gauge feedback regarding a variety of vegetarian outreach materials. One of the booklets that we evaluated was “Why Vegan” from Vegan Outreach, which was very popular among grassroots animal advocacy groups at the time (2002). The booklet included all three of the primary messages used to promote vegetarianism: animal protection, personal health, and environmentalism. The same approach is used in the Vegetarian Starter Kits of most major veg outreach organizations.
The problem with this approach is that combining all messages into a single booklet gives the target audience a chance to dismiss the message if one (or more) of the arguments does not resonate with her or him. People interested in environmental issues might think the materials are more health-oriented, for instance, while those looking for health information might be turned off by the material describing farmed animal cruelty. For advocates, it is just being lazy to throw all messages together and shout it to the masses; a much better approach is to focus on one message and aim it at an audience that will react to it.
2. Worth A Thousand Words
When it comes to print advertising, image is everything… almost. The image(s) that you choose represent the biggest opportunity to capture your audience’s attention, or not. When in doubt, use bold imagery to make sure that your materials are seen, and in some cases, this may include the use of graphic imagery such as abused or neglected animals, or even dead animals. However, use such imagery with a degree caution, as there is evidence that it is most effective when used to address relatively infrequent behaviors such as wearing animal fur or when the audience’s exposure to the message is very brief.
Research also points to the use of images that feature more familiar animals – in the U.S., that usually means dogs and cats. In 2003, the Fund for Animals was concerned with persuading people to avoid buying and wearing animal fur. Faunalytics worked with the fund to evaluate a set of advertisements and the images that resonated most with the target audience were a coyote that looked like a domestic dog and a bobcat that looked like a domestic cat. On the other hand, images of rabbits and chinchillas elicited almost no sympathy. The lesson is to choose your image carefully and be sure to always keep your audience in mind.
3. Brevity is Beautiful
4. Make it Personal with Stories
It is sad but true that people must be reminded that animals are individual beings. In the same Fund for Animals study mentioned earlier, there was a clear difference when the subject animal was described as “it” or “he” or “she.” Based on this research study, the latter pronoun (“she”) was most effective as there is more sympathy for female animals, in general. Making your message personal might also involve telling a story about a specific animal and giving her or him a name. Stories that focus on a single instance and an “identifiable victim” are more effective than data describing the huge number of animals that suffer. This approach is used to great effect by animal sanctuaries, but the lessons apply to other types of advocacy as well.
5. Avoid Your Opponent’s Arguments
According to George Lakoff, author of the book “Don’t Think of an Elephant” and the grandfather of public affairs message framing, “When we negate a frame, we evoke the frame.” In other words, if we tell someone not to think of an elephant, the first thing that they’ll do is think of an elephant. That’s the problem with directly taking on our opponents’ arguments in print materials – our audience may not always be able to differentiate our talking points from those of our opponents. When presented with conflicting information, many people will unconsciously gravitate toward the arguments that are more consistent with their initial perceptions.
For instance, when advocacy materials created by the Centers for Disease Control provided a list including both true and false statements about flu vaccines, people often remember the false statements as true. It’s a cautionary tale for animal advocates, who often feel compelled to directly refute the many false claims made by the people and industries that abuse and commodify animals. But avoid the temptation or you might end up helping your opponents instead of the animals.
6. Use “Protection” Over Rights/Welfare
Faunalytics conducted a study in 2005 that gauged public opinion about animal advocates and the animal protection movement. It was a multiphase study comprised of both quantitative and qualitative research. Quantitatively, we conducted a representative survey of 3,000 U.S. adults and tested their reaction to various terms by using “animal rights” throughout the survey with a third of the sample, “animal welfare” with a third, and “animal protection” with the final third. Interestingly, the differences were nominal, with slightly more support for using “protection.”
Qualitatively, using focus groups and a small number of personal interviews, we found more substantive differences. “Animal rights” has negative connotations with many because it is perceived as more “extreme” and due to confusion between legal and moral rights. “Animal welfare” is also a loaded term for some people, particularly those who are opposed to social welfare for humans. “Animal protection” elicited the most support, qualitatively, and Faunalytics usually advises animal advocates to use this term. Similarly, we advise using the term “advocates” instead of “activists” because the former seems to have more mainstream appeal, based on limited research.
7. Have a Clear Call to Action
You’ve spent countless hours going through thousands of photos and dozens of revisions to design your print materials, and now you’re about to spend a good portion of your budget to have it published. But what is the point if you haven’t given your target audience a simple and clear call to action? Those taking the time to read your materials will be more likely to follow through if you make it easier for them to do so. Don’t make them hunt for the URL or phone number to order more materials, for instance; the contact information should be obvious even at a quick glance. Perhaps more importantly, make your call to action a simple request involving an easy task or an incremental change that your audience will think is feasible.
Do you have other pointers for people designing print materials for animal protection? What have you found to be most effective when designing materials for your issues? Please share the knowledge and comment using the form below.