We all seek to end the use of animals for food. That will come about largely through growing popularity of plant-based meat and milk products. However, we can all help speed up that process through personal and online vegan advocacy. Let’s explore the options.
Social frames are at the root of all advocacy. These are the mental lenses through which we perceive the world around us, so we don’t have to question everything we hear and see. They help us interpret and accept all communications. They are shaped by our social and personal norms, including our experiences, stories, and stereotypes.
Effective advocacy requires that both message and messenger fit within the audience’s frames by being credible and likable, or at least compatible, with what the audience already feels and believes.
Here are some ways to be credible:
- For the message: similar to what the audience knows, from a trusted source, logical, accurate, or based on personal experience
- For the messenger: scientific credentials, quoting an authority, reporting on personal experience, introduction by respected member of the audience, no personal gain, use of a podium/microphone
And some ways to be likable:
- For the message: similar to what the audience knows, appealing to audience’s fears and desires, evocative of imagery, based on personal stories,
- For the messenger: similar (dress, ethnicity, geography, gender, profession), friendly, sincere, good-humored
If the audience is general or unknown, we can still use these universal commonalities for positioning ourselves within their frames: opposition to animal cruelty, promoting healthy foods, reducing global warming, making the world a better place.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Advocates
Here are seven highly effective habits in any advocacy:
- The prospect must want to learn, perhaps as consequence of some dramatic personal event, like watching a slaughterhouse video, losing an animal companion, an illness
- The occasion must be right – not in the middle of dinner, a sports event, a noisy environment
- The advocate must be credible and likable
- The message must be credible and likable
- The prospect must acknowledge receipt of the message, perhaps by recounting its core
- The prospect must make some commitment to a change
- The prospect must receive some weeks of discrete, friendly support
This may be illustrated by a program we ran for nearly a decade called 10 Billion Lives.
We would bring kiosks equipped with video screens and headphones to college campuses and rock concerts and offer people $1 to watch a four-minute video, to give us their email address, to pledge a self-selected number of vegan days per week, and to get debriefed by one of our field staff.
That dollar and the video provided the motive. The occasion was idle time between classes or before the bands got going. Our staff was selected to look and act like our prospects. Receipt of the message was confirmed during the debriefing, and the commitment was in the pledge. We supported each pledge through weekly emails about food shopping, eating out, and dealing with family and friends.
Online outreach remains one of the most promising and least explored tools of vegan advocacy. Thus far, we have limited our attempts to posting a video on our respective websites and asking viewers to request literature. That’s not enough.
Facebook’s option of creating “custom audiences” allows us to show successively more engaging videos to a shrinking, but more committed audience, eventually ready to make a vegan pledge. We could start with several millions who watched a puppy play with a piglet and end up with several thousands willing to watch a video with the intensity of our “10 Billion Lives” (still on YouTube).
Most of us have heard someone share that they had been a vegetarian or vegan “once.” The most likely reason for this recidivism is lack of social support. People just get tired of having to justify their diet to others on social occasions. With the growing popularity of plant-based meat and milk products, this problem should gradually fade away.
One program with a strong focus on vegan support is Israel’s Challenge 22. Here, new vegans, few hundred at a time, are assigned to a closed Facebook group that is monitored by a vegan chef, a nutritionist, and an expert on social relations. Each day, for 22 days, they are assigned a challenge – exploring plant-based meats in their supermarket, checking out vegan offerings in their local restaurants, or taking a friend to vegan dinner. Each day, they report to the group on their challenge and get their questions answered.
The Challenge of Changing Habits
Conclusive documentation of the link between smoking and lung cancer was published in 1952. Since then, health authorities have tried in vain to curb smoking through standard advertising techniques of appealing to smoker’s beliefs and feelings. They published official health warnings, required graphic images on cigarette packages, banned tobacco advertising, and raised excise taxes, all to no avail. What finally worked was turning smoking into an anti-social activity through gradual isolation and eventual eviction of smokers from airliners, restaurants, schools, and other public accommodations.
The anti-smoking campaign experience helps to explain why our appeals to compassion and repeated documentation of the devastating health effects of animal food consumption have not had a more substantial impact. Changing popular habits requires a reform of our social norms. That will come about through the growing popularity of plant-based meat and milk products.
In the next blog entry, we will address the power of language and rhetoric.