Which types of viral videos are best at inspiring changes in individual diets and attitudes? Are videos that contain cruelty footage more effective than videos focused on cute, happy animals? What about videos on vegan food options, or videos that compare our treatment of companion animals to our treatment of farmed animals?
In this study, we tested 12 different viral videos created by Mercy For Animals against a control video. We placed the treatment videos into four broad categories:
- Cruel: videos focusing entirely on cruelty footage with scenes of farmed animal suffering, confinement, and abuse
- Comparison: videos comparing suffering farmed animals to happy farmed animals or non-farmed animals, such as dogs
- Cute: videos containing footage only of happy and cute farmed animals
- Lifestyle: videos describing vegan food and how to eat vegan
Each treatment video was between 40 and 90 seconds in length. The 60-second control video delivered a simple environmental message and did not contain anything animal related. The MFA and ChooseVeg logos were removed from all videos. There are links to the 12 videos in the Methodology document under the Supporting Documents section below.
We created four versions of each of the 13 videos, one with no call to action and three that included one of the following randomized messages:
- Please leave animals off of your plate
- Please cut out or cut back on animal products
- Please choose vegan
In total, we created 52 different videos (13 videos x 4 versions = 52). We recruited 2,594 participants from Amazon Mechanical Turk for our two-wave survey. Participants were randomly assigned to watch one of the 52 videos. After watching their respective videos, participants were asked to rate the extent to which they felt happy, sad, interested, inspired, angry, guilty, and disgusted. A day later, we sent participants a second survey that measured their intention to reduce their meat consumption, their attitudes toward farmed animals and meatless meals, and their interest in a free Vegetarian Starter Guide.
Intention to Reduce Meat Consumption
Relative to participants who watched the control video, participants who watched the comparison and cruel videos were significantly more likely to intend to reduce their meat consumption (p = 0.004 and p = 0.02, respectively).
Participants who watched the cute and lifestyle videos were slightly more likely to intend to reduce their meat consumption relative to the control group, but these differences were not statistically significant.
Comparison videos seemed to create three times as much intention to reduce meat consumption as cute videos and lifestyle videos, and 30% more intention to reduce than cruel videos. Cruel videos seemed to create two and a half times more intention to reduce meat consumption than cute videos and lifestyle videos.
Vegetarian Starter Guide Requests
Participants who watched comparison, cute, and lifestyle videos were significantly more likely to order a Vegetarian Starter Guide than participants in the control group (p = 0.05, p = 0.06, and p = 0.06, respectively).
Participants who watched cruel videos were slightly more likely to order a Vegetarian Starter Guide relative to the control group, but the difference was not statistically significant.
The differences among the treatment videos were not statistically significant, however; so participants in all video types were equally likely to order a Vegetarian Starter Guide.
We also measured six attitudes that correlate or likely correlate with reduced meat consumption:
- Pigs, cows, and chickens are smart and intelligent just like dogs and cats
- The food that I eat contributes to animal suffering
- Meals without red meat or chicken are delicious
- Eating meals without red meat or chicken is easy
- Cows, pigs, and chickens have rich emotional lives just like dogs and cats
- Cows, pigs, and chickens have the ability to suffer and feel pain
Looking at an average of the measurements of the six attitudes, comparison, cruel, and cute videos nudged attitudes in a favorable direction for farmed animals compared to the control video (p = 0.009, p = 0.06, and p = 0.06, respectively). Lifestyle videos did not change any of the attitudes to a significant degree relative to the control video.
The differences among the treatment videos were not statistically significant, however; so we can conclude that each video type had the same relative impact on attitudes related to reduced meat consumption.
We averaged the three outcomes—intention to reduce meat consumption, Vegetarian Starter Guide requests, and attitudes—to get a sense of the overall effectiveness of video type on changing minds about farmed animals. We estimated a combined average through four different methods and each method produced similar results. See the Additional Resources section to learn how we estimated the combined average.
Overall, comparison videos were the most effective at changing attitudes and intended behavior in a positive direction for farmed animals. Comparison videos were three times more effective than lifestyle videos, 1.6 times more effective than cute videos, and 1.3 times more effective than cruel videos. However, the differences among the comparison, cruel, and cute videos were not statistically significant.
Lifestyle videos had the smallest overall effect and did not change attitudes or intended dietary change to a statistically significant degree relative to the control video.
Which specific videos in our study were the most influential? Although our study wasn’t powered to detect differences in subgroups, we did an exploratory analysis to see whether any particular video stood out as more influential than the others.
Benny’s Life, The Choice Is Yours, We Are the Same, and Happy and Free were among the most influential videos relative to the control video. Benny’s Life was categorized as a cruel video and the latter three videos were categorized as comparison videos.
The results of this study suggest that watching a one-minute video about farmed animal cruelty can create an intention to reduce meat consumption and change individual attitudes about farmed animals and vegetarian eating, at least in the short term. In particular, videos that compare farmed animals who are suffering to happy farmed animals or non-farmed animals, such as companion animals, may be the most effective.
Of course, this study suffers from the perennial concerns of social desirability bias and self-reported measures, but it’s a useful starting point for understanding the effect of videos on intended dietary change and attitudes related to vegetarian eating and farmed animals.
To learn about the effect of the calls to action at the end of the videos on attitudes and intention to reduce meat consumption, please read our separate write-up here.