Despite growing pressure on American restaurants from animal activists, linking animal welfare to marketing programs has thus far been ineffective for restaurants.
A new study by the University of Missouri suggests that while the restaurant industry is often criticized for not doing more to push animal welfare reforms, but even when they do their marketing efforts miss the mark.
“Restaurants have faced a lot of criticism for how they source their food, and it is logical to think that social cause marketing could mitigate that criticism the way it has for issues in other industries,” says Dae-Young Kim, lead author on the study and an associate professor of hospitality management in MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.
“We found that this kind of marketing does improve trust in restaurants on a variety of issues when the ads include engaging visuals, but when it comes to animal welfare, it doesn’t matter how the message is delivered. Customers don’t care.”
The research team surveyed 433 participants who viewed marketing messages from fictional restaurants. Each message versions with text only, and text with visual elements such as illustrations and certification seals. Each message also embraced one of four social causes: health, human services, environmental concern and animal welfare.
Unsurprisingly for the researchers, the majority of causes elicited improved trust and reputation for the restaurant when presented in a visually engaging message, as opposed to a generic message with plain text. But for the cause of animal welfare, consumer trust remained unchanged regardless of the type of message, indicating apathy on the part of customers.
“We have seen that visually appealing cause marketing works in a variety of contexts across many different industries,” Dae-Young Kim says. “So when we see this marketing fall flat for restaurants addressing animal welfare, it tells us that the style of message isn’t the problem. People are simply ignoring restaurants when they discuss that particular cause.”
Kim says the problem is probably not that people don’t care about animal welfare. One possible explanation is that not enough restaurants have taken a stand regarding animal welfare for customers to pay attention. Conversely, people might be more receptive to an animal welfare message in a pet food advertisement because pet food companies have been incorporating that message into their marketing for several years. In that case, more marketing from restaurants addressing animal welfare could prompt more customers to start listening, Kim says.