Advertising that makes you feel guilty. – By @mergalv

Advertising that makes you feel guilty. 

We all probably have a social purpose and, within, a topic we are more sensitive towards. Animals’ welfare is mine. That’s the reason why I became a member of PETA some years ago and I try to follow a plant based diet as much as I can. 

Since I started studying at SCA I’ve become more analytical regarding the communication strategy brands, and I’ve started to wonder about a few things. Ie. how’s people’s behaviour after seeing certain messages, if everything goes in order to grab consumers’ attention or if just grabbing that attention and becoming viral is enough reason to make someone buy your product or, in this case, spend their time and money in your cause.

I’ve seen, in instagram, the latest PETA post this morning and this initiative for Thanksgiving caught my attention.

The post description asks us to pay attention to those pedestrians’ faces to understand the level of awareness that they’re achieved but… does the message really work? Or could it potentially cause more damage than good? Is it realistic to think that anyone would change their mind if they’re meat lovers after seeing this guy naked in the street with, let’s say, a questionable custom on the floor?

Or would those meat lovers rather ridicule it? Could it actually induce them think that vegans and animal welfare activists are cuckoo freaks who don’t know how the world works? It made me wonder if it could serve as an excuse to reinforce those pre-established ideas against those activists, building a taller wall against veganism, as they could feel embarrassed by the idea of becoming one of those vegans as they’d associate that idea with that guy who is laying down on the street. 

After giving it some thought I came to the conclusion that that type of actions deepen into the rather annoying behaviour of people like my uncles who, at Christmas dinner, make fun of me throughout the entire night when I tell them I won’t eat that lovely iberian ham because I don’t eat meat. There’s a lot of misunderstanding regarding this topic. 

I found more PETA advertising around thanksgiving after a bit of research:

Definitely less disruptive than the first action but, in my opinion, as ineffective. As, for meat lovers, the last thing they have in their mind is the turkey’s wellbeing. They have absolutely no emotional connection with those creatures. Most likely, they won’t find any reason to question their diet in that advert. 

I find rather interesting the analysis of advertising that seeks to make people feel guilty. And I also find giving a valid answer to the topic a very difficult task. I honestly think it’s all down to how we try to find that guilty feeling in the consumers. 

I find quite obvious that making people feel guilty by telling them to their faces everything they’re doing wrong in a disruptive way doesn’t work, as people tend to get very defensive, they start justifying their behaviour with a batch of prefabricated reasons and often they start attacking back, vilifying the messenger. 

So, maybe a communication approach that doesn’t focus on how bad people are behaving and how evil they are for eating animals, but rather teach a new reality, in an educational way as, for instance, Sir David Attenborough does. Obviously not everyone has the credibility and the reach Sir David has but, at the end of the day, he has earned that respect and the massive support he receives through that approach to communicate his message, showing people that a brighter future is possible, and that there’s still time to take care of our beautiful planet, instead of trying to vilify whoever doesn’t think like him.

So I thought that maybe PETA could focus on showing, without trying to make consumers feel guilty, the deforestation that growing livestock is producing, and the consequences that will cause in the planet in the foreseeable future. 

Or maybe PETA could, without trying to make consumers feel guilty, how a diet heavily based on red meat increases the risk of suffering cancer and other life threatening illnesses. A lot more people could probably relate to that issue than the wellbeing of an animal they have no emotional connection with. And, at the end of the day, the result would be exactly the same. 

Nevertheless, it’s not all ineffective. PETA clearly sends hundreds of daily messages and, in each country, their targets are different. As a result, PETA has achieved important victories in the last years, lobbying to change laws, pushing to close bullrings in Spain, forcing some brands to stop using animal testing in their research, and universities to stop using animals during lessons with their students, as well as targeting illegal animal wet markets and “celebrations” that incur in animal torture. 

It made me happy seeing, during the tofu research this week, that there will be a huge upwards trend in the interest of a plant based diet, full of meat-free alternatives, in the upcoming 5 years. Hofelly the world will be a better place for animals in a few years.

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