Please note that this report is archived, as it was published in 2013 and is not up to our current standards.
Online vegetarianism and veganism ads are currently our most cost-effective intervention recommendation. Both of our top charities engage in this form of outreach. Ads featured on Facebook or elsewhere online link to a webpage that shows a powerful video exhorting viewers to go vegetarian or vegan, provides resources, and includes a comments section. Because ads of this type don’t incur the printing and distribution costs of paper leaflets, they may be even more cost-effective than physical brochures.
- How Online Veg Ads Work
- General Impact Assessment
- Impacts of Specific Factors
How Online Veg Ads Work
To run an online ad campaign, an advocacy organization needs a dedicated outreach website and some ads that link to it. Most often, the outreach website contains a video documenting the abuses of factory farming, a few tools for social interaction (such as a comment field and sharing buttons for social media sites), and a few links to more resources that include some form of vegetarian starter kit.
Ads can be placed anywhere online, but Facebook is a particularly common choice because it allows the ads to be tightly targeted. Ads are often targeted to women in their teens and twenties, the demographic group considered most likely to respond to efforts to spread vegetarianism.1
As an intervention, placing online ads that lead to a vegetarian outreach website is attractive partially because it requires little staff and volunteer time per contact. Staff time needs to be devoted to website maintenance and to checking the performance of the various ads placed, as well as occasionally producing new ads, but this can take only a few hours each month. Since programs are so easy to scale and saturation has not been reached even in the first-choice target market, there is certainly room for more funding in this area.
These ads are also extremely cheap: Who’s Against Animal Cruelty? ads cost around 20 cents per click in the US, and international campaigns in Spanish, Chinese, Russian, and Hindi languages can cost as little as 2 cents per click in foreign countries.2 This makes online veg ads potentially the most efficient method of promoting vegetarianism – unlike leaflet distribution, they require little to no human time loss, and each click on an ad is comparable to the cost of a printed outreach leaflet ordered at Vegan Outreach’s suggested donation rate (11-13 cents in Fall 2013, for the most popular leaflets).
General Impact Assessment
Thus far, the cost effectiveness of online veg ads is not as well understood as the cost effectiveness of leafleting, but it is better understood than many other interventions. A randomized and controlled study testing whether exposure to videos through online veg ads leads to increased rates of vegetarianism after three months is currently being undertaken by Mercy For Animals.
The most reliable data we currently have is that, depending on the ad and the video used, about 1.5-2.7% of viewers who find online outreach pages through ads click to request additional vegetarian literature, and about 7% of viewers “like” the outreach page on Facebook.3, 4 A follow-up survey found that a substantial proportion of viewers who either “liked” a page or requested literature also changed their diets, with 26% of those who “liked” the page and 31% of those who requested literature reporting that they had gone vegetarian since seeing the video.5 However, the survey received few responses (104 total) and the findings were likely affected by both response bias and social desirability bias, so we consider these numbers very provisional. Our best estimate is that about 2.1% of viewers go vegetarian, with smaller numbers cutting out dairy and eggs. However, since viewers have the choice of clicking on the ads or not, it may be that some of those who go vegetarian would have found a reason to do so without the ad. Therefore, in addition to our uncertainty about the magnitude of change, we are uncertain how much of the change is caused by the video and ad.
To see how many animals your donation could prevent from suffering in factory farms, download our impact calculator.
Impacts of Specific Factors
Not all implementations of the online veg outreach model will be equally effective. This is one reason we conduct evaluations of individual organizations. Below, we discuss some factors that may have particularly large impacts on the success of individual campaigns.
Since the video on the outreach page is the centerpiece of a campaign, it is not surprising that the choice of video can dramatically affect the cost-effectiveness of an organization’s outreach, even once the fixed costs of producing the video have been paid. One study has found that, among four superficially similar videos, the most effective outperformed the least effective by about 70% on the measure used in the study (percentage of viewers requesting vegetarian literature).6 If this measure is comparable to other measures of interest, such as percentage of viewers going vegetarian, the choice of video could have a very significant impact on the effectiveness of a program.
For more information, see our page on comparing videos and ads.
Like videos, individual ads vary greatly in their effectiveness.7 However, since ads will have to be replaced many times during the lifetime of a online video outreach campaign, and since new ads are much easier to produce than new videos, simply split-testing different ads and keeping those that work best should allow organizations to optimize this factor of their campaign.
Another decision related to the ads is how to place them. This decision should be driven by a combination of cost to purchase a click and quality of the clicks purchased. Currently, we do not know what platform offers the best value, but it appears that selecting a young, female audience on Facebook may result in higher-quality clicks than attempting to target a similar audience through blog advertising networks.
For more information, see our page on comparing videos and ads.
While campaigns targeting audiences outside the United States offer cheaper advertising rates, we have not reviewed any information about the effectiveness of these campaigns. We suspect that such campaigns, when run by organizations in the US or featuring videos that are simply translated versions of videos created for an American audience, may run into difficulties with cultural differences and with perceived relevance. Further study on such campaigns, regardless of ties to US programs, is necessary for conclusions to be drawn regarding which are comparable in efficacy to programs targeting audiences in the US and which are dramatically better or worse. Animal Charity Evaluators currently limits the scope of our research to US-based interventions and organizations for feasibility reasons, but we may investigate such campaigns in the future.
Online advertisements have a good track-record of effectiveness so far, and are comparatively easy to study. ACE recommends this intervention, contingent on the results of ongoing research.
The Humane League. (2011). HiddenFaceOfFood.com Facebook ads survey.
Humane League Labs. (July 19, 2013). Report: Which factory farming video is more effective?
ACE. Comparing effectiveness of videos and ads.
After arguing that the demographics with the most vegetarians are also those in which it is easiest to convince additional people to become vegetarian, Nick Cooney reviews the evidence about which demographics those are. “Female vegetarians also outnumber their male counterparts at a roughly even amount in all age groups. Since young people are more likely to not eat meat than older people, young women should be more likely to be vegetarian than any other age and gender group. Indeed, studies have consistently found that to be the case.” Cooney, N. (2013). Who’s ditching meat?: Gender. In Veganomics.
“While a good CPC (cost per click of the ads) in the United States is in the range of 20 cents, in many countries around the world (including developed or developing countries like Brazil, Argentina, India, China, Italy, etc.) the CPC is a fraction of that – as low as 2 cents in some countries.“ Cooney, N. Well-planned Facebook ads: The most cost-effective way to create new vegans, vegetarians and meat reducers?
“All respondents thus far are individuals who have opted into the HiddenFaceOfFood.com site in one of two ways:
- By “liking” the page via a Facebook plugin (7% of total visitors to HiddenFaceOfFood.com)
- By ordering a vegetarian starter kit (1.5% of total visitors to HiddenFaceOfFood.com)” The Humane League. (2011). HiddenFaceOfFood.com Facebook ads survey.
Aggregated click rates reported for a single video across multiple ads varied from 1.32-3.75%, but the extremes were the result of incomplete aggregation. (That is, they were rates for a video with a particular group of ads, but not with all ads it was shown with throughout the study.) Humane League Labs. (2013). What Came Before video ad comparison report.
“Based on the data, we can conclude that approximately 26% of respondents [who “liked” the page] went vegetarian and approximately 38% reduced their meat consumption. … Based on the data, we can conclude that approximately 31% of respondents [who ordered a vegetarian starter kit] went vegetarian and approximately 39% reduced their meat consumption.” The Humane League. (2011). HiddenFaceOfFood.com Facebook ads survey.
“Young women who viewed What Came Before were 70% more likely to click to order a vegetarian starter guide than those who saw Farm To Fridge.” Humane League Labs. (2013). What Came Before video ad comparison report.
Vegetarian starter guide click rates for What Came Before varied from 0-3.76% depending on the ad it was paired with. Humane League Labs. (2013). What Came Before video ad comparison report.