Or, the tactics that make people go vegan faster
After launching Vegan Marketing Success Stories, I’ve had many conversations about how vegan businesses market themselves to attract more vegan or non-vegan/omnivore consumers. If you’re still wondering how we came to eat so many animals for food, hopefully my blog on the book Meathooked answered that.
When I came across this article from Faunalytics a few months ago that reviewed a few studies it conducted in 2021, I realized what we should talk about more than how businesses market themselves are the methods that make people eat plant-based or go vegan.
I did some research, and I could only find one other study from 2018 to back up this data. While it might not be the most current, the following studies provide some cool information on some of the most and least effective tactics that make people eat plant-based. My recommendations in this blog consolidate data from the following two studies:
- Vomad’s global study involving 12,814 participants from 97 different countries, conducted from October to December 2018
- Faunalytics’ two studies. The first retrospective study involved 4155 participants and many tools, and includes detailed data from those who identified as Black & Latinx. The second experimental study involved 2405 participants and did not include documentaries, peer-to-peer influence, classroom lectures, challenges, books, or labels in the study. Please download the 111-page PDF report published in April 2022 titled “Planting Seeds: The Impact Of Diet & Different Animal Advocacy Tactics” at the link above.
Below I’ve included a graphic summary of Vomad’s survey and the infocomic from Caryn Ginsberg that summarizes the data from the latter two studies. There’s a lot of coding involved in the infographic, which is why I wanted to do my own deep-dive on the topic.
Highly recommended tactics
In Vomad’s survey, this was by far the most successful tactic at 21.9%. While Faunalytics cautioned against it, 56% of respondents in the first study who remembered watching a doc said it reduced their animal product consumption. As you’ll see in Vomad’s graphic below, What the Health, Cowspiracy, and Earthlings were the most influential documentaries.
2. Conversations with vegan friends/family members
This is great news! Just by being vegan and sharing that with your loved ones, you have a good chance you’ll influence their behaviour.
In the five years I have lived as a vegan, one acquaintance said she eats almost no animal products (except for bee products) and convinced her friend to eat plant-based because of learning about my journey. One close friend has cut seafood from her diet (thanks to Seaspiracy), and another close friend has cut meat from his diet and eats other animal products occasionally.
So I can tell you anecdotally that even if you don’t convince anyone to go vegan (I believe everyone’s on their own journey), people will follow your lead if you’re out and proud about it.
16.8% of Vomad survey respondents (the second most effective tactic) listed conversations with friends or family members as influential. While there was not enough sufficient data to rate peer-to-peer outreach in Faunalytics’ studies, 41% of new vegans from the first study self-reported that they received information about plant-based eating from a peer in the month prior to starting their vegan diet.
Vomad asked respondents what were the most effective ways to get people to go vegan in their opinion, and the top two responses, “show them good food” and “initiate conversations,” fall under this personal influence.
Think about all the campuses Earthling Ed visits, where he has a table and a sign saying “DEBATE A VEGAN” that invites outspoken non-vegans to come and talk on camera with him. Add the online shareability to those videos (see #3 below), and that’s far more effective than an offline protest that depends on people paying attention or worse—forces people to.
Now if you’re thinking, I’ll give my friends & family a long list of all the docs they should watch and books they should read and force conversations on them—let me stop you right there. I recently listened to this podcast episode of The Darin Olien Show with Toni Okamoto, and I agree with her point that a good vegan meal is WAY more effective in changing minds vs. getting angry at people for not going vegan right away.
My list of vegan resources is already really long, but I created it because there’s an in for everyone, if they’re open to it. I almost always recommend Earthlings as the one doc to watch (because it worked for me, and veganism is really about the animals), but depending on the angle your loved ones are coming from (health, climate, injustice, etc.) there is a resource for nearly everything related to veganism.
3. Social media posts
Faunalytics’ first study reported that social media posts reduced animal product consumption in almost 40% of respondents who remembered experiencing them. 13.2% of participants in Vomad’s survey listed social posts as the fourth most popular tactic.
One of my colleagues at VEG Networking Canada said that seeing one social post convinced her to start the journey to veganism. This is why I always share informational content posted by other credible organizations or content creators, because you never know who might see it!
4. Online blogs/articles or newspaper articles
Faunalytics strongly recommended news articles as an effective tactic. Almost 40% of respondents in the first study remembered reading them before reducing animal product consumption. Their studies did not separate out online vs newspaper, so let’s assume a good chunk of that was online.
While only 1% in Vomad’s survey listed newspaper articles (9th most popular tactic), 4.4% mentioned online articles or blogs (fifth most popular tactic). Below is the data from Vomad’s survey on online articles.
5. Classroom education, talks, or events
A whopping 58% and 63% of participants in Faunalytics’ studies who had experienced a classroom talk reported reduced animal product consumption. In Vomad’s survey, 1.3% of respondents said they attended a speech, lecture or event (8th most popular tactic).
Gary Yourofsky’s powerful one-hour presentation at Georgia Tech university in 2010 comes to mind as does James Wildman’s talk on behalf of the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida in 2012, and Jamie Logan’s more recent talk at Rutgers University where she brought vegan pizza. Who says no to free food?
I would also say public events like our own Planted Expo in Vancouver (which typically host vegan speakers) are also very effective. Check out my calendar of global plant-based & vegan events.
We need to get more kid-level education in classrooms to get them aware early!
I recently watched this Animal Justice online panel discussion on “Getting Plant-Based Food into Institutions, Corporations, and Cities” and highly recommend a watch as they cover how you can be part of getting groups of people (and entire organizations) to move more plant-based.
Lesser recommended tactics
1. Internet videos
Internet videos were Vomad’s 3rd top tactic at 14.4% of participants.
Non-graphic (38%) and graphic (40%) videos reported reduced animal product consumption in Faunalytics’ first self-reported study. Regarding videos with graphic content, the study recommended that “advocates show graphic videos only to forewarned viewers, as it is reasonable to assume that anger would be higher in individuals who find the content objectionable (rightly or wrongly) and did not consent to see it.” This will come into play later when I talk about non-disruptive protests.
Faunalytics also stated non-graphic videos are sometimes shared via social media posts, which scored high in both studies.
Below are the clips reported in Vomad’s study.
2. Leaflets (flyers)
Vomad’s survey noted that activists handing leaflets out was the most successful form of public activism at 20.5%. Public activism was the 7th most successful tactic at 1.4% in the survey. That’s still great news for the introverts like me!
Faunalytics’ survey was much higher, with 43% of respondents in the first study experiencing leaflets before reducing their animal product consumption. While leaflets increased animal protection behaviour intentions in meat-eaters, it did not change behaviour. Leaflets scored around the midpoint of responses in the experiment, meaning people reacted neutrally.
The study also mentioned a previous experiment that didn’t find an overall effect of leaflets on changing college students’ meal purchases in dining halls (Haile et al., 2021). Previous research by Vegan Outreach in 2018 also provided weak evidence supporting the effectiveness of leaflets.
3. Non-disruptive protests
Faunalytics reported that non-disruptive protests (see graph below) reduced petition-signing in meat-avoiders and didn’t change people’s behaviours in its experiment, even though almost 40% of respondents who remembered experiencing them in the first study reporting reduced animal product consumption.
It was one of the top-scoring forms of advocacy perceived as condescending and misleading in the experiment and also one of the advocacy forms least likely to be seen as informative by participants. Non-disruptive protests were the top tactic whose message participants were least likely to agree with.
You’ll see in Vomad’s analysis of public activism methods that the most successful types of protests were non-disruptive. After leaflets, the 19.5% citing “Other” includes the work of the Animal Liberation Front, festivals, friends, sanctuaries, and more. Following that was Anonymous for the Voiceless‘s Cube of Truth and animal rights protests or marches.
While Vomad did not present celebrities (or online content creators/influencers) as a tactic in its survey, Faunalytics didn’t find causal evidence for celebrities in changing people’s behaviours, despite almost 25% of respondents experiencing celebrity messages in the first study. Responses to celebrities were neutral to negative in both studies, and a previous report found that receiving information from celebrities was associated with less success at attaining a vegan dietary goal.
I think this is because people might start on a plant-based diet hoping to look like a celebrity, but if they aren’t connected to the values of veganism, or (especially) if the celebrity stops eating a vegan diet, there isn’t a strong pull to commit. I wondered whether content creators fare any better, but I think we treat them the same.
(For what it’s worth, I have a list of plant-based celebrities/influencers on my List Love page.)
Books were the sixth most popular tactic in Vomad’s survey with 3.4% of respondents mentioning them.
Faunalytics reported there wasn’t sufficient data on books as advocacy tools to make a recommendation about them and didn’t include it in their experiment. Their first study provides limited evidence that books may be effective, at least with those who choose to read them: 72% of respondents who remembered reading a book said it caused them to reduce their animal product consumption. Given the limitations of self-report studies (see ‘Limitations’ from Study 1), Faunalytics is uncertain about books’ potential to cause behaviour change and recommended more research.
People have asked me if I’m going to write a third book, and while I say that I will, now knowing that documentaries have more of an impact on behaviour change than books do, I’m hoping that my next project will involve both a documentary and a book, similar to what Brian Kateman’s done with Meat Me Halfway.
Below are the books cited by participants in Vomad’s study. I’ve read three of the titles listed, and agree that Campbell & Campbell’s The China Study and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals are pretty effective. But again, it takes a documentary or conversation with a vegan or someone on the plant-based spectrum to find out about these books.
Tactics I don’t recommend
1. Disruptive protests
As already mentioned, public activism was one of the lowest forms of advocacy in Vomad’s survey with disruptive protests (i.e. throwing paint, vandalism, property damage, or other stunts like appearing nude) being the least effective.
While folks in Faunalytics’ first study were a little more generous with 26% of people experiencing them reporting reduced animal product consumption, it recommended against using this method because disruptive protests increased self-reported animal product consumption in meat-eaters in their experiment. Meat-avoiders were also less likely to sign a petition if they watched a disruptive protest.
Faunalytics also reported disruptive protests caused anger towards protestors in almost half (49%) of the respondents who remembered experiencing them in the first study. These protests were also one of the advocacy forms most likely to cause anger in their experiment, and the second most likely form of advocacy to be perceived as condescending and misleading. They were also least likely to be seen as informative, and one of the forms least likely for participants to agree with its message.
I think about the recent protests executed by Animal Rebellion (now Animal Rising) where protestors have been spilling milk in grocery and retail stores. While they’ve been getting some great media coverage for it, I put myself in the shoes of a manager of one of these stores and think about the stress those spills cause. Not only are products wasted (yes, I know we shouldn’t drink cow’s milk but we could donate it to people with nothing to eat or drink) but also the damage caused costs money and maybe even that person’s job. Would I stop to think I understand these people were trying to make an important point about the animals? No. Anytime a protest causes property damage, it’s a fucking headache and I wouldn’t be in the right mental state to have a conversation with a vegan about animal rights or eating more plants.
2. Billboards or other ads
Advertisements weren’t a tactic presented in Vomad’s survey. Faunalytics zeroed in on billboards in particular, saying there was no impact of billboards on people’s behaviours, beliefs, attitudes or intentions and only 25% of respondents in the first study said they reduced their animal product consumption because of seeing a billboard.
There are some clever billboards I’ve seen by PETA, Switch4Good and other non-profit organizations. I love that Gen V offered £1M to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak if he went vegan for one month—but did the outdoor ads help to sway him, or were they meant for omnivores? Think about how many people pass a billboard vs. are online.
I know that ad salespeople will tell you that traffic’s in the hundreds of thousands for billboards or outdoor ads, but out of those people in rush-hour traffic or even walking by a busy train station with heads down looking at smartphones, how many are intrigued by the ad enough to change their dietary behaviours? I imagine it’s not very many. I think outdoor ads can be successful for brick and mortar businesses or even large corporations, but as a PSA, I don’t see it standing the test of time.
3. TV/radio or podcasts
I’m not surprised TV or radio shows weren’t mentioned in Faunalytics’ study, but I am surprised podcasts weren’t at all as a potential advocacy tactic, given that there are some popular vegan podcast hosts out there (Rich Roll, Simon Hill, Darin Olien—interestingly, all white men). However, in Vomad’s survey, they were the least successful tactics at 0.6% (TV) and 0.3% (Podcast/radio).
If we were to do this survey now or in another few years, I think podcasts might rank slightly higher, but they could also be a weak tactic because most folks who listen to vegan-hosted podcasts are already vegan or eating plant-based.
It’s also worth mentioning that in Vomad’s survey, 11.2% of respondents (1,435 people) said they made the connection to go vegan “without any influence.” Good for them!
There you have it, folks! Take this info and do with it what you will. If you’re vegan or on the plant-based spectrum and want to get more people on board with our movement, share this blog so they have the info. Tag me on social media and I’ll amplify on my end too…because remember, we recommend social media for this purpose! 😉