To get people to do less, you have to give them more

In doing a bit of part time tutoring with a friend at the London College of Communications, we asked the students to come up with a simple, creative solution to a difficult problem.

The problem was ‘How do you get people to eat less meat?’

This is interesting of course from a sustainability point of view as Nicholas Stern says, the single thing we can do to reduce our carbon footprint the most is to become vegetarian.  Now, imagining that marketing can change people’s belief system about meat and get them to cut it out altogether is too big a challenge.  However, encouraging meat-eaters to eat less meat seems a reasonable and achievable thing for marketing to tackle.

The students came back with a range of interesting ideas.  These included humanizing the animals – by giving the chicken a name like ‘Eric’ in a Disney way –  so people would feel guilty about eating something with a familiar first name.  Or telling people that eating meat was bad for you and placing a bag of vegetables and pulses next to the meat with the same nutritional content.  Or even promoting Fundamentalist Christianity because apparently in the Bible it says ‘Thou shall not eat animals’ or similar.

But whilst there were lots of interesting and potentially valid ideas, the majority avoided addressing the reason why people eat meat in the first place – it’s really tasty.  There’s just no denying that a bacon sandwich, a well cooked fillet steak or a Sunday roast tastes fantastic.

Generating ideas which side-step this basic truth seem less like to succeed than an idea that would in someway address it.

Now, you could be comparative – ‘Is that tasty burger worth a painful death for a cow?’.   But I don’t think that this is going to work.  People know that burgers come from cows and they still eat them.  Telling them the cow suffered before it died isn’t really a big deal if you’ve accepted that it’s going to be killed to be eaten anyway.

So, I don’t think that coming up with righteous reasons not to eat meat that sound like they’ve come from a bunch of vegetarian do-gooders is ever going to work.  Because they won’t embrace the fundamental truth that people like eating meat because it tastes great.

Instead, what if you embraced this fact and put that at the heart of your message in a way that satisfied your objective of encouraging people to eat less meat?

There was one student who did just this.  Their idea was about encouraging people to eat meat once a week because it would taste better.

To put that into a proposition would be something like: Meat tastes even better the less often you eat it

This takes the truth about why people eat meat and makes you understand how you can savour and heighten the delicious flavour by experiencing on a less regular basis.  And it makes sense.  People understand the basic principle of ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ and that you appreciate something more when you’ve had to wait for it/save up for it/look forward to.

So, if you have the ham, cheese and pickle sandwich every day, then the meat for dinner might not taste as good as if you just went for the cheese and pickle ones instead.  Or if you have a non-meat dinner a couple of nights a week, then it makes the beef on Saturday night and the roast chicken on a Sunday taste even more special.  This isn’t about getting people to stop eating meat altogether, it’s about reducing the number of meals eaten a week which include meat by one of two, which would add up to a lot of animals in the course of a year.

This sort of thinking seems to be absent from a lot of messaging about climate change.  We seem to be stuck in a world where the messaging has been written by the equivalent of the vegetarian do-gooders.  Take less flights, use less plastic bags, turn the heating down, buy less stuff.  This may work for the Green Do-Gooders who seem to have written them, but I doubt it’s going to work for the mainstream majority who like flying, using plastic bags, having warm houses and buying stuff more than worrying about the possibility of something called Climate Change.

The messaging needs to evolve and start with embracing why people enjoy doing these things in a way that ultimately encourages them to do less of them, rather than starting from the premise that doing them at all is bad.

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