For this week’s blog, Casey discusses how multiple vegan messages may be effective in targeting individuals who differ in their beliefs and readiness for change.

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The Most Effective Vegan Messaging Approach is Almost all of the Above

Casey Taft, Ph.D.

“That is not how you get people to go vegan. You have to lead by example!”

“Discussion of nutrition and human biology is irrelevant- stay focused on the ethical arguments for veganism.”

“You’re preaching to the choir. That is not how you will reach non vegans.”

“The only way to get people to go vegan is to introduce them to great vegan food!”

We regularly receive remarks like these in response to our social media posts and I will be honest. They can be more frustrating than the “Bacon!” comments we get every day. Why? Because such comments assume a one-size-fits-all approach to messaging is effective. They also assume that they know who the target is of each individual message.

If there was one message that would convince every individual to go vegan and stay vegan, I think we’d probably all be doing it by now and we’d be living in a vegan world. Of course, people are more complicated than that, and what motivates one person to change may not work for somebody else.

Different people require different messages. Proven behavior change efforts have been built around the idea that we need to meet people where they are in terms of changing and to find the best method to “tip the balance” in favor of behavior change for individuals who differ in beliefs and level of motivation.

The “Transtheoretical Model” is especially relevant for this conversation. The model holds that individuals go through different stages related to their readiness for changing a specific behavior. We pass through periods where we’re: not even considering change, beginning to consider change, preparing to make a change, actively working on changing, and we’ve made the change and are trying to continue on that path.

Naturally, different messages are more effective for those at different stages of readiness for changing their behavior. For example, if changing is not even on a person’s radar, consciousness-raising messages are indicated to help them recognize the ethical consequences of their current path. If they’re content consuming animal products, simply leading by example and telling them about the wonders of vegan food will have little or no impact.

If they’re ready to make the change and are interested in learning how to go about it, on the other hand, they may simply need the skills and tools to do so. In this case, helping them make the transition with tips for living a cruelty-free life and showing examples of happy, healthy vegans can be particularly helpful.

We also need to develop specific messages intended for those who’ve already made the change to veganism. Just because a person has gone vegan doesn’t mean that they may not have difficulty staying on the path. It’s important to build a vegan community where everyone feels supported and understood. The more we empower vegans, the more likely it is that they will themselves engage in advocacy efforts and spread the vegan message.

The reason “almost all of the above” is in the title is because not all messages are helpful. For example, if we try to promote veganism but are afraid to use the word “vegan” or otherwise avoid discussions about ethics, we will have little impact. The decision to go vegan is an ethical choice by definition. We won’t trick anyone into going vegan. Clear and confident messaging will always win the day, though not every individual message need be about ethics. Contrary to what many seem to believe, one can’t turn someone off to veganism simply by discussing it.

So let’s end the mindset that we know the singular successful message for everyone. As with most things, we need multiple messages that target the issue from various directions so we will have a greater likelihood of success in promoting veganism. We still have much to learn about what works in different situations and with different individuals. Learning to engage in effective messaging is a process for all of us; one that does not simply consist of experts disseminating a body of codified facts.

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Casey is co-owner of Vegan Publishers and Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine.