Editorial: Hop a Bus
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1998:
Alan R. Andreasen’s book Marketing Social Change appeared in 1995, but a reader
only just brought it to our attention, noting the application to humane work in the subtitle:
Changing Behavior to Promote Health, Social Development, and the Environment.
This, the reader recognized, is exactly what is involved in getting people to fix their
dogs and cats, and quit either letting pets roam or leaving them alone, miserably chained.
It is also what we attempt in urging humans to quit eating meat, the essential behavioral
change if we are to abolish the major source and rationale for cruelty. From factory
farming to fishing and hunting, the near universal excuse is that animals must suffer because
people want to eat them, or because they compete for the meat humans want to eat, like
wolves who may kill livestock and seals wrongly accused of depleting cod. Until the underlying
behavior changes, humane reforms only marginally reduce the suffering.
“Social marketers recognize,” Andreasen writes, “that many of us undertake acts
even when we personally see no need to, or are even actively opposed to them.”
How many people eat meat who don’t really like it or want to eat it, but believe they
must, to avoid marital or other family disputes, especially at holidays?
How many fear the societal reaction if they don’t feed their children hamburgers?
How many men hunt from fear they’ll be considered effeminate if they don’t? Or,
at least, will be left out of masculine fraternity?
“Social marketers,” Andreasen explains, “adopt a customer-centered approach,
and recognize that change will only come about if one starts with the customers’ reality.”
In other words, empowering a person to become a vegetarian requires providing
ways and means of withstanding social pressure––a tall order, since while replacing friendships
is disruptive but often done, one cannot replace kin. Vegetarians long since created
gatherings and introduction services to help each other through the often jarring adjustments
that come upon discovering that many friends value the meat habit more than a history of trust
and affection. Yet the growth of the vegetarian network also inhibits many would-be vegetarians,
tending to make becoming a vegetarian look much like joining a cult.
“Social marketers recognize,” Andreasen continues, “that to have maximum social
effectiveness in a world of very limited budgets, one must focus on changing groups of consumers––not
individuals and not mass markets, but carefully selected segments.”
One of the most important breakthroughs in expanding vegetarianism has been getting
meatless products into supermarkets. Suddenly the vegetarian consumer base expanded
from committed vegetarians, who go out of their way to shop, to ordinary people, who may
casually pop attractively packaged meatless items into their grocery carts with little serious
thought about it. Meat industry surveys are now finding, to much executive alarm, that the
number of “meat avoiders” who are de facto vegetarians without defining themselves as such
exceeds the number who practice self-aware vegetarianism. Moreover, the “meat avoiders”
break their habits to consume meat no more often than self-declared vegetarians backslide.
The meat honchos will get a further scare from a new survey commissioned by
Henry Spira of Animal Rights International, described on page 11, which found that 73% of
Americans would eat less meat if vegetarian alternatives were even more readily available.
Some social marketing precepts seem self-evident: “The more educated and emancipated
the individual consumers,” according to Andreasen, “the less likely that group norms
have a major role to play in behavior change.”
Studies have shown for more than 30 years that educated people are far more likely
to become vegetarian––which explains the paradox that vegetarianism is most prevalent, by
job class, among health care professionals, who also have the most involvement with animalbased
biomedical research and education. Health care professionals are also among the job
classes least likely to hunt. They may give up meat mainly for health reasons, but this poses
the further point that because the health benefits of vegetarianism are well known among their
peers, becoming a vegetarian is better accepted. Further, because few health care professionals
hunt, it is relatively easy for them to avoid hunting among their peer group.
Andreasen may, in short, underestimate group norms, even among the educated.
But he does seem to understand that education can produce paradox:
“Unlike educators,” he observes, “who may be satisfied that messages were distributed
and received and that people have apparently learned some facts, social marketers argue
that learning facts is only important if it leads to a desired behavioral outcome.”
From the humane perspective, awareness among health care professionals that saturated
fat and cholesterol can be deadly is of value because it persuades many to give up
meat––and to tell others that they should at least eat less meat. Nothing is gained, however,
and indeed much is lost if a person gives up beef and pork to eat equivalent poundage of fish
and chicken. Net animal suffering only increases.
“Good social marketers recognize that behavioral change in high-involvement situations
may take a long time to bring about,” Andreasen continues. “Thus they may temporarily
focus on nonbehavioral objectives, such as a certain knowledge level or a certain attitude
change. However, they always keep their eye on the final outcome and make sure that interim
measures are always carefully designed to lead directly to the intended goal.”
One hears echoes of Henry Spira’s prescription for what he terms “the stepwise,
incremental movement.” Advises Spira, “Keep building on previous achievements. Aim for
initiatives that grow, proliferate, and become self-sustaining. It is an enterprise which develops
a life of its own. Each action, each event is a step forward. With each step forward you
can look further ahead.”
Working almost alone, Spira over the past 23 years has won more milestone gains
for animals than could be listed in one succinct sentence. Yet he has spent little if any of his
limited budget on direct mail appeals to the already persuaded. He has instead put perhaps the
biggest share into newspaper advertising, directly aimed at changing behavior. Each ad has a
specific strategic objective, toward pressuring a particular target into taking a “stepwise,
incremental” action to reduce animal suffering. Even if the reader does not respond with the
letter or call to the target Spira designates, however, he counts an ad successful if it generates
thought. He does much of his ad testing in ANIMAL PEOPLE, hoping other activists will
respond by helping to take each new message to the world at large––as they often have, perhaps
on the largest scale yet when the Margaret Kyros Foundation for Animals recently contracted
to display his “Who do you pet and who do you eat?” ad in placard form on the curb
sides of 60 Seattle buses for 12 weeks this spring.
“Henry insisted against receiving a donation or having his group’s name on the placards,”
reports Joe Haptas, who arranged the bus ads. Instead, the placards plug the
Northwest Animal Rights Network, whose board overlaps that of the Kyros Foundation.
Explains Andreasen, “Social marketers know that a great many transactions fail to
take place not because the benefits were not appreciated but because the costs were too high,”
a point not lost on Spira, who knows that this applies to organizations as well as individuals.
If a grassroots group expends resources on a campaign, Spira understands, it must also recover
donations and volunteer time, in order to continue campaigning.
Humane advocacy groups often cripple themselves by charging for literature, instead
of sending it free and working to reach as many people as possible. Reciting the same cant
commonly used to rationalize high charges for pet adoption, policymakers insist they must
charge for literature because people don’t value what they don’t pay for. Yet surveys of veterinary
expenditures show that most pet owners highly value the 40% of owned dogs and 60% of
owned cats who are acquired for free, as strays or giveaways, and if the cant is usually wrong
in that regard, it is dead wrong when applied to selling ideas. Over the history of pamphleteering,
from Thomas Paine and Common Sense to the people passing out brochures at airports,
humane advocates may be unique in trying to pass the hat before any sinners hear the sermon.
This mistake is not made by meat and hunting advocates, who flood schools in particular
with free “teaching materials” that make teaching their viewpoints casually convenient.
The customer is always right
Repeatedly Andreasen points out the weight of convenience in changing behavior.
Surveys show, for instance, that inconvenience is as great a factor as price in the failures of
pet owners to fix dogs and cats, and that inconvenience and price both far outweigh either
ignorance or irresponsibility in causing pet overpopulation. ANIMAL PEOPLE f i e l d
research sponsored by the North Shore Animal League confirmed four years ago that inner city
people are as aware as anyone of the consequences of uncontrolled pet breeding, and are as
convinced that pets should be fixed––but they typically have no nearby veterinary clinics,
have little access to pet-friendly transportation, and have little or no disposable income after
meeting human family needs. Yet instead of helping inner city people to get their pets fixed,
by setting up rides to and from low-cost or free clinics, too many humane societies still harp
on “irresponsibility,” lecture inner city people when they do enter a shelter, try to talk them
into surrendering pets who are viewed as members of the family, and––should inner city people
try to adopt from a shelter––tell them they are unfit to have animal companions.
None of this encourages a positive, expanding, and influential relationship.
“Social marketers recognize,” Andreasen explains, “that although they cannot
afford to treat customers individually except in some very well-funded small-scale projects, it
is still possible to group customers into what marketers call segments,” who then “become the
focuses for distinctive programs.”
If most strays and unwanted litters arriving at a shelter come from particular parts of
town, shelter management needs to find ways of establishing a positive presence there.
If most meat-eating occurs in restaurant meals and meals shared with family, as it
does, vegetarians need to encourage the availability of easy alternatives.
If 80% of all the factory-farmed animals killed for human consumption are chickens,
as they are, humane campaigns must attack the chicken habit instead of dwelling on the faint
chance that mad cow disease and e-coli associated with beef-eating will ever kill more
Americans than choke to death on chicken bones.
“The final defining characteristic of social marketing,” Andreasen says, is recognition
“that every choice of action on the consumer’s part involves giving up some other action.
Many times social marketers can bring about change as much by showing the deficiencies of
an alternative as they can by emphasizing the benefits of the approach the marketer favors.”
Animal protection groups have raised funds for decades with appeals showing a single
charismatic animal with a message saying, in effect, “Give or this animal dies.”
Strangely, though, Henry Spira’s ARI and the Humane Farming Association are
still, to our knowledge, the only animal protection groups to take a similar message to the
public: if you eat meat, you kill this animal. Grassroots organizers like Joe Haptas et al are
catching on, but the national organizations are so slow that one wonders if many of them really
care about change.