Effective Messaging: Is Appealing to Purity, Environment, or Cruelty More Effective?
The report covered in this summary has since been reanalyzed by Humane League Labs due to problems with the methods used in the original approach. The corrected report indicates that the results are inconclusive and that there were several serious flaws in the design of the study. They recommend that readers not draw strong conclusions from it.
Humane League Labs (HLL) is a project spearheaded by the Humane League of Boston that regularly evaluates the effectiveness of various kinds of vegetarian / vegan outreach. Their new study examines the type of messaging that is most effective for a wide variety of age groups. While the goal of outreach is to encourage people to reduce or stop animal product consumption, this research recognizes that there are multiple paths which might achieve that goal. Though many advocates might prefer to deliver an “abolitionist” message as it could be seen as “clearer and philosophically correct,” it may not be the most effective in persuading behavior change.
The researchers wanted to test whether “practical (i.e. less ideological)” messages like animal cruelty and saving the environment would be more appealing to the general public. It’s an important distinction to make because even though the less “pure” messages may result in more modest changes to diet at the beginning, “this may be better than no change at all.” The researchers presented respondents with one of three pamphlet pages, each focusing on a single message: animal cruelty; purity/abolitionist; or the environment. Each page contained written content and photos relating to their respective message. The respondents were later asked a series of questions related to how they felt about the different messaging and how it might affect them. At the end of the questions, respondents were asked to indicate whether they would like to order a vegetarian recipe guide. The responses were correlated to see which messages were more or less persuasive to the reader.
The study found that there was “clear evidence” that the cruelty message was more compelling than the purity and environmental messages in “prompting individuals of all ages to rethink their eating habits and plan to reduce animal product consumption.” It was especially true for younger respondents, particularly when questions were framed in terms of “days of suffering spared.” The researchers also found that the cruelty message was superior to the environmental message in prompting a general intention to change, except when it came to younger respondents who may be “comparably persuaded” by both cruelty and environmental messages.
As many people are compelled to become advocates because of a desire to end animal cruelty, it may be encouraging to know that this kind of messaging garners the most reaction and general intention to change. However, the philosophy behind this HLL study and others in their series, has prompted criticism from some corners of the animal advocacy movement, who disagree that abolitionist messaging should be abandoned in the hope of (theoretically) smaller gains. Though some might find the results controversial, taken as a whole, the work being carried out by HLL is giving food for thought to advocates in the U.S. and beyond. Reconsidering the effectiveness of what we do is likely to be a good thing when our actions can be backed up by data.