Ad Autopsy Part 2: Anti-Vivisection Print Campaigns And Research
These advertising “autopsies” are grounded on the premise that effective campaigns cannot be divorced from what the public thinks, feels, or perceives about an issue. Persuasion and activation do not happen in a vacuum; you can only move a message if you understand what your target audience actually believes. This requires public opinion research including quantitative and qualitative studies.
This “autopsy” is driven from a research-based framework to determine what went right, or wrong, in various anti-vivisection print ad campaigns. Over the last decade the Faunalytics has developed an extensive body of public opinion research on animal experimentation. This primary and secondary data collection forms the foundation of our print ad investigation and can also help inform your anti-vivisection efforts.
What The Public Thinks About Animal Experimentation
In May of 2012, the Gallup Organization released its latest installment of the ongoing Values and Beliefs Survey, showing 55% of respondents holding animal tests to be morally acceptable and 38% to be morally wrong. Some polls are now tracking an erosion of general public support for animal experimentation. According to these studies, support for vivisection in the United States fell precipitously between 2000 and 2008 from 70% to 54% approval.
Of course, the public opinion dynamics of animal experimentation are far more nuanced, with support holding steady for certain experiments, dropping for others, rising for some animals, less so among certain demographic groups etc. In fact, some key demographic groups already oppose the general practice of vivisection. Most women (52.2%) and younger people aged 18 to 24 (55%), now fall into this key demographic bucket. So while 61% of people over 55 approve vivisection, this level falls below 50% for people under 34.
This is a promising base of support to begin crafting messages and advertisements for anti-vivisection campaigns. In our last “autopsy,” we described a researched-based approach to developing winning ads. This “scientific approach,” pioneered by the great copywriter John Caples, couples a research-defined targeting universe with attention-arresting ads that maintain the audience’s attention by focusing on his or her interests. In turn, the advertisement must move the prospect to a desired action and the campaign accordingly measures outcomes through rigorous testing.
Under this framework, we can effectively guide and develop anti-vivisection advertising to the most responsive audiences. So let’s look at three different ads and draw some lessons for more effective lab animal advocacy.
Ad #1: “Guinea Pig” — National Anti-Vivisection Society
Our first ad was produced by the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), a long-time leader on the product testing issue. This ad employs a clever, witty headline asking: “Why Do I Always Have to Be the Guinea Pig?” which immediately segues into the body copy.
Toxicology and biological sciences may seem difficult or uninteresting to many readers, but this ad copy is highly accessible, written in an everyday, informal style to avoid any ambiguity or potential confusion. The message and call-to-action are also clear and consistent: namely that plenty of humane alternatives exist and can be easily found online or at NAVS’ toll-free hotline. However, an ad like this, in which photography forms the cornerstone of the appeal, rises and falls entirely on the selection of the animal subject in the photo itself – in this case, a prominent photograph of a guinea pig.
Over the last decade, our research has consistently demonstrated that animal protection groups routinely and mistakenly design ads through the lens of an animal activist. Thus, presumably good ad prospects fail because respondents often care more about some animals than others (e.g. baby raccoons and chinchillas just aren’t as effective subjects as baby bobcats for anti-fur ads). Likewise, we now know that dogs, cats, and primates are some of the strongest subjects for anti-vivisection campaigns.
The public’s bias in favor of certain species is consistent across a wide range of animal issues; it’s the way the world is, not a moral judgment on the way the world should be. And so, even a clever and well-written ad like NAVS’ “Guinea Pig” is not exempt from the public’s lack of respect for rodents – despite how cute this particular guinea pig appears to the eyes of an animal advocate.
Ad #2: “Sally” – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Our second ad, “Sally,” was produced by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for its campaign against IAMS. In 2002 and early 2003, a PETA investigator worked undercover at a vivisection laboratory hired by IAMS. The investigation revealed shocking abuses of dogs and cats by the pet food manufacturer that most people never expected.
“Sally” brings instant story appeal backed up by strong production value and copy that paints a vivid mental picture. The ad also employs an effective narrative frame, by setting up a story line using people and animals as the embodiments of ideas: the frame entails victims (Sally and the other beagles), villains (IAMS’ callous lab directors), conflict (imprisoned and tortured companion animals abused by IAMS), and the heroes (you and PETA).
“Sally’s” language invokes powerful and jarring imagery in the reader’s mind through compelling phrases such as “the lab director ordered the dogs’ vocal cords to be cut because their cries irritated him.” This style of copy satisfies our requirement of maintaining the prospect’s attention throughout an ad, as the emotional power focuses the reader on a clear call-to-action: i.e. visit IamsCruelty.com and call on IAMS to use humane alternative testing methods.
Ad #3: “Rent” – New England Anti-Vivisection Society
Our third and final ad, “Rent,” was produced by the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) for its Release and Restitution campaign (“Project R&R”). In 2005, the Faunalytics conducted a national survey to help identify “leverage points” for retiring chimps as part of this campaign. Our poll identified the specific conditions under which people would support a ban or the extent to which they would limit chimpanzee research.
These results indicated that the public has serious concerns about the use of chimpanzees in laboratories and strongly supports limiting experimentation on these highly intelligent and social animals. Consider just a handful of these findings:
- 80% of the population supports the use of alternatives to chimpanzees at least some of the time, with half of those supporting the use of alternatives “always”
- 74% of all adults support permanent retirement for chimps no longer used in experiments
- 71% also believe that any chimpanzee used for more than 10 years should be retired
In conducting this study, the NEAVS team has demonstrated a first rate commitment to public opinion research and real leadership that has paid major dividends for chimpanzees in recent years. However, despite a very creative concept of linking the Great Ape Protection Act to the taxpayers’ cost for the rent via analogy, we question the effectiveness of this particular ad.
“Rent’s” headline – or lack of a headline – is problematic. The line “You Pay The Rent” feels more like a natural sub-headline or an overall creative hook than a main headline. “You Pay The Rent” also fails to boldly telegraph the fact that American taxpayers are directly funding these chimpanzee experiments and costly housing. In our first “autopsy,” we noted a similar problem with so-called “blind headlines that don’t say what the product will do for you are 20% below average in recall.”
“Rent” lacks any body copy except for a small inset designed to mimic the look and feel of a newspaper ad for an apartment rental. Lab animal advocates know exactly what NEAVS is trying say where the ad copy reads “5x5x7 w/metal bars, incl steel bed, meals, escape-proof, steps to nowhere, 40+ year lease, misery & fear.” It’s a very clever hook to promote a critical piece of federal legislation. But creativity is only a means to an end in advertising, not an end in itself. However, “unless enough ‘prospects’ are transformed into ‘customers,’ your ad has failed, no matter how creative.” The goal of “Rent” is to build audience support for the Great Ape Protection Act, not to win awards for creativity.
So would anyone not familiar with taxpayer-funded animal experimentation understand how he or she is personally financing the chimpanzee’s rent from this ad? Without any body copy, the ad presents no facts to explain how taxpayers get stuck with the bill for these wasteful and cruel animal experiments. Faunalytics’ public opinion research suggests that most people have extremely little knowledge about lab animals; a negligible 3% of all respondents to our March 2010 Animal Tracker study deemed themselves “very knowledgeable” of the issue. And respondents’ general awareness of the issue isn’t much better: a March 2012 Animal Tracker study revealed that only 9% discussed general animal issues “daily or near daily.”
Bottom line: if you are going to run a laboratory animal advocacy campaign, don’t ever assume your audience understands the issue. Laboratory animal protection isn’t even close to a regular topic of discussion. Explain the issue to them. Use facts. Facts are your friends. Facts are necessary. But facts are never sufficient to win a campaign; use them to build a narrative frame and develop a message based on leverage (talking) points unveiled in the body of public opinion research.
Once again, our point is not to criticize (or promote) any one organization’s work on behalf of laboratory animals. Our objective is to explore the strengths and weaknesses of various ad campaigns while drawing lessons from the existing research to improve our collective work on behalf of laboratory animals. By starting with an appreciation of what the public thinks, feels, or perceives about animal experimentation, you can improve your own advertising for lab animals.
What do you think of this advertising “autopsy” installment? As always, we’re eager to hear your feedback. Drop us a line, register your feedback and let us know if you had any additional thoughts or questions on these ads and studies.
Anthony is a co-founding Director of Faunalytics and a Vice President at Campaign Solutions/ Connell Donatelli, where he specializes in online fundraising and advertising for public affairs campaigns, ballot initiatives, and non-profit organizations. In 2010, he was honored by Campaigns & Elections Magazine as a “Rising Star of Politics.” In 2007, he served as Executive Director of the American Association of Political Consultants. He holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania (2000) and an M.A. from the George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, with concentrations in corporate public affairs and campaign management (2005).