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Thursday, 18 July 2013

Animal rights – marketing to just get a reaction?

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Although this age old saying can be disputed, and it’s validity questioned from situation to situation, when it comes to the protection of animals, perhaps this quote rings true.


Last week the Queensland RSPCA launched a repositioning campaign with the help of creative agency, Engine Group. ‘WE are all creatures great & small’ aims to create empathy in people toward animals by sharing some of the elements and aspects that make humans and animals to closely interconnected. With a little help from the photo-retouching department, the similarities between humans and animals are not only written, but also shown.

Does it work?

Some of the pictures are definitely a bit eerie, dipping into the uncanny valley with a pussycat looking pensive with human-like eyes reminding us that 90% of a cat’s DNA sequence is identical or ours. Perhaps this discomfort is what makes the campaign successful.

The toolbox of marketing for non-profit organisations with ecological agendas is a small one. Often you can reach for the cutesy ‘please pity us’ approach, using small children, puppy dogs, and sad drought laden landscapes. Or in contrast to that, you can use the ‘shame and guilt’ approach, creating pressure by pointing the finger at potential supporters. This second approach is more aggressive. It’s saying, ‘it’s your fault these chickens are caged’ ‘it’s your fault our oceans are filled with plastic,’ and it brings blame, but also defence.

In our Contemporary Consumer Insight class last semester at the University of Sydney Business School, I looked into how non-profits conducted marketing in ways that were effective or ineffective. The more aggressive approach often uses real facts and data to appeal to a sense of reason within people. However, overwhelmingly the insight learned is that people are defensive and respond negatively. It is because they do not want to be blamed and automatically try and stand up for our actions. The prime example is the argument of vegetarianism and meat consumption. Although there are many facts out there that accuse meat-eaters of ruining the planet, it is just as easy to turn around and say, “eating meat is natural and I can do what I like!”

Often ecological agendas come from a passionate place. This is why it is so easy for marketing activity to fall into an accusatory tune. By knowing that this is ineffective, marketers can look at other strategies to communicate.

The campaign by Queensland RSPCA reaches a place in between cute and creepy. It aims not to guilt us into caring, but rather reminding us to be more aware. And whether or not this campaign has actually invoked empathy in people, it’s definitely been successful in grabbing attention. We feed our sense of curiosity to the weird and bizarre by sharing and talking with others, as I have done here. In the case of animal rights, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” and the RSPCA have done a great job in getting people’s attention.

Hongi Luo
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School

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