Effective Animal Campaigning: Current Knowledge And Guiding Principles
At its core, effective animal campaigning means maximizing the suffering spared for every dollar we spend. Recently, a research review from the Vegan Society provided recommendations for creating the most effective campaigns, based on research primarily sourced from the Faunalytics Animal Tracker, Animal Charity Evaluators, Humane League Labs, and Mercy For Animals.
The review underlines past findings while also highlighting new insights: farmed animals, especially chickens and fish, are subject to the most suffering; messages based on animal cruelty are generally more effective with younger audiences than ones based on environment and individual health; messages discouraging the consumption of red meat should be avoided as consumers may turn towards chicken and fish, causing more animal suffering overall as they consume more individuals; while some demographic groups are more receptive to animal advocacy messages, outreach should generally be designed to reach the most people, and be contextual when necessary; long-term targeting of individuals creates more veg*ns and more advocates.
If you’re a fan of Faunalytics, you may already be familiar with these lessons. For our part, we’ve looked at both the effectiveness of corporate campaigns and the importance of balancing individual vs. institutional advocacy. We’ve looked at the demographics of who is most supportive of animal causes and encourage contextual messaging when possible. We know that making veg*ns is half the battle — keeping veg*ns is vital. Finally, we’re in the midst of focusing on chicken and fish suffering in our forthcoming research.
For their part, the Vegan Society looks at how focus, content, and framing matter to advocacy. Though they don’t necessarily frame things in terms of an Effective Animal Advocacy (EAA) model, their suggestions fit well within that framework. Using our resources and those of other groups, here’s what they found.
Many organizations recommend focusing on farmed animals, and chickens and fishes in particular, because of the sheer amount of suffering and the number of individuals killed. Animals used for food in the United States receive a fraction of animal charity donations: only 0.8% goes to farmed animal organizations while 66% goes to shelters. Chickens alone make up 98% of land animals killed in the U.S. While some would argue that a broiler chicken who may only live for two months endures less suffering than a beef cow who lives to be over a year old, chickens still account for over 90% of the suffering of land animals when taking the differences in lifespan into consideration. On a typical factory farm, chickens’ lives are much worse than those of cows. Meanwhile, fishes are killed, potentially in the trillions, each year.
While this focus on chickens and fishes makes sense from a general overview and cost-effectiveness perspective, we know that animal advocates will never stop working on a broader range of issues — nor should they. Companion animals, wildlife, and animals used in science always need our help. There are continuous efforts that help countless animals, as well as ever-changing opportunities to help more. TNR programs are proving to be highly effective in dealing with feral cat issues, and right now strategic opportunities have emerged for wildlife advocacy because of the link to the COVID-19 pandemic. We should never overlook areas where we can achieve strategic “wins” based on the available data and present context.
Based on recent foundational and empirical research, there are a few recommendations for the most effective approaches when creating campaign material.
Focus on animal cruelty
Show graphic content
Show farmed animals alongside companion animals
Compare factory farming to rape and slavery
Use sexualized images of women
Liken humans to animals
Campaign material featuring only chickens is generally less effective in persuading people to reduce their meat intake, however, one study showed that photos of poultry were more impactful than photos of cows, goats/sheep, and fish, and second only to photos of pigs. The same study suggests photos of large groups of animals have more impact, as do photos of mother and baby animals together. Most impactful are photos of sick or injured animals, and animals in small cages.
Campaign messages focusing on anti-cruelty can be effective with younger audiences, however, promoting health benefits may be more effective with older consumers. The main concerns that advocates should focus on are reducing the risk of disease, and avoiding antibiotic contamination. Messages triggering disgust reactions can be as effective as anti-cruelty messages, and advocates should portray animal products as contaminated with disease, hormones, and antibiotics. Consumers turning away from red meat towards chickens for health reasons should be made aware that chickens are more likely to carry bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella.
The media seems to have most readily accepted messages focusing on the environmental impact of animal products and according to the Vegan Society, these messages have had some success in creating more veg*ns, especially among young people. Studies show that most meat-eaters believe veg*nism is a better diet from an environmental, ethical, and health standpoint. However, taste and convenience are significant barriers to a shift towards plant-based diets. Providing consumers with the “how” instead of the “why” of adopting such a diet may be more effective at reducing their consumption of animal products.
It might also help with reducing recidivism. A Faunalytics study from 2014 found that 84% of veg*ns return to an omnivore diet and that there are actually five times as many ex-veg*ns as there are current ones. Reasons include craving animal products, having switched to the diet too quickly, and lacking a connection to other veg*ns. The most common sources of information consumers use to learn how to eat a more plant-based diet are websites, followed by books, friends, and family. Documentaries and movies, on the other hand, are the most common resources that influence people to adopt a more plant-based diet.
The review notes that a study by Mercy for Animals identified these “dos” for creating effective Facebook content:
Post many videos
Evoke strong feelings
Use few words
Ask for shares (instead of likes)
Link to news articles
Show photos of food
To make persuasive video content, the review recommends having a narrator (especially a celebrity) and talking about farmed animals’ intelligence.
Many specific traits known to be associated with veg*nism – female, young, liberal, urban, well-educated, etc. – can be targeted directly on Facebook. However, other demographics, while not as easily persuaded, may provide greater impact. For example, persuading a man to go veg*n may reduce significantly more suffering because men consume more meat on average than women do.
There are many factors to take into account when creating campaigns with the goal of reducing the most animal suffering, and the Vegan Society offers many useful recommendations. The review highlights the risk of advocates encouraging a shift from the consumption of some farmed animals to that of others. When it comes to both health- and environment-based messages, advocates should take care not to unintentionally nudge people towards consuming more chickens and fishes. They are healthier than red meat and farming them causes relatively low levels of emissions, so they seem like a sensible choice for many consumers. In addition, it’s more difficult for people to relate to them because they are so unlike us; this causes us to perceive them as less intelligent and sentient. Advocates should highlight their immense scale of cruelty and suffering to effectively inspire dietary change.
Some of the studies included in this review are stronger than others. Not all meet advocacy researchers’ current standards of reliability, but they still provide a useful direction for focusing our efforts. What we hope to do by highlighting the key points in this review is to underline some basic principles of effectiveness, so that you might apply them in your own work. While you may not identify with EAA completely, it’s a strong branch of the animal advocacy tree, and it’s one that Faunalytics is also proud to contribute to.
To learn more about how to apply general EAA principles to your advocacy, we encourage you to browse our library summaries and read through to their conclusions. Our library is curated to provide studies that can be applied to a full range of animal issues, and most summaries contain concluding paragraphs that spell out how advocates might use the results most effectively.