Research report: How to effectively shape and change consumer opinion

Shaping and changing consumer behaviour is the heart of public relations, and it’s a skill that is incredibly important within activist movements, too. Understanding the psychology of change is how brands effectively encourage their target markets to embrace their products and services. 

For activists, it’s important to know how to inspire others, galvanise public support, and communicate with stakeholders effectively. Here’s what the latest research tells us about the psychology of decision making and behavioural change at a consumer level: 

What motivates consumers to choose plant-based products?

Animal welfare

Humane League Labs, a group of researchers specialising in the effectiveness of animal advocacy strategies, recently found that information highlighting animal cruelty appears to be more effective than health or environmental messaging when it comes to promoting dietary change amongst consumers.

Similarly, Mercy For Animals found that videos comparing animals such as pigs, cows, and chickens being playful and acting like typical ‘companion animals’ is a powerful way to shift the way people see farmed animals. Allowing people to form a connection and understand that animals are sentient individuals with unique personalities creates empathy and can drive change.

Health concerns

That said, personal health can also be a powerful motivator for individuals looking to reduce or eliminate animal products from their diet. The popularity of recent documentaries such as The Gamechangers and What The Health are excellent examples of using health-based messages to promote dietary change to mainstream consumers.

While health can indeed be a great motivator for shifting towards a plant-based diet, it’s also a common reason people reintroduce animal products into their diet. While a balanced, nutritious plant-based diet is attainable for most, basic nutrition education is often based around animal products. Because of this, it’s important to provide nutritional support when encouraging others to choose a plant-based diet.


Environmental concerns are a rising motivator for reducing or eliminating animal product consumption. A recent report by Food Frontier placed environmental concerns as among the top 4 reasons that Australians are consuming less meat.

However, awareness of the real impact of animal agriculture on the environment is still relatively low among Australians. Recent campaigns such as Animal Liberation Queensland’s efforts to promote ‘the truth about beef’ have been designed to educate and empower consumers. 

What deters consumers from choosing plant-based products?

Feeling judged

Research into psychology has shown that when people feel as though they are being judged or being told that what they are doing is morally wrong, they can become defensive. This can sometimes be mitigated by using inclusive ‘we’ language.

Psychology demonstrates that using ‘we’ language (i.e. ‘We must reduce our meat consumption’) puts people on-side, and can help to focus negative feelings towards systemic failures, rather than feeling personally attacked.

Feeling intimidated 

Actual or perceived violence or intimidation often turns the public against activists. It’s important to remember that the general public is sympathetic to farmers and farm workers as a whole, and that the media will often use terms such as, ‘hard-working Aussies’ to further this sentiment.

Activism that is perceived to harm or vilify these farmers or farm workers who ‘feed the nation’ is unlikely to fare well with the public. Fundamentally, respect is an important value to underpin all exchanges between both activists and industry operators. 

Offensive language 

Another issue within animal activism is the use of analogies that compare animal agriculture to oppression faced by human minorities. While activists may have philosophical reasons to use terms such as r*pe, slavery and the Holocaust, this is most likely to put people off-side and to cause further psychological harm to members of affected groups.

In conclusion

Psychology shows that shifting one’s mindset and challenging pre-existing beliefs can be a difficult process for many. Offering actionable steps and support for people reassessing their dietary choices is vital to overcoming psychological barriers and ensuring people can change to a kinder, plant-based lifestyle for the long run. 

At Powered PR, we are experts in the global plant-based revolution, and we provide specialist insights on how to effectively connect with Australia’s rapidly expanding vegan and flexitarian market. Send us a message today to learn how we can help you.

AUTHOR: Jessica Cotton

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