11 November 2016

Are You #Vegcurious?


Adjective: vegcyrious /vedʒ kjʊərɪəs/

Exhibiting an above average curiosity and inquisitiveness about vegetables

The purpose of the campaign is to encourage men to reappraise vegetables through building a social movement. You can find out more in the Why vegcurious section through the website:


We launched #vegcurious on DoItDay yesterday Thursday 10th November at the IBM building, a day of marketing initiatives curated by The Drum  live in both London and New York City. We officially launched the #vegcurious campaign during the event at the IBM building and Tweeted the #vegcurious hashtag out to food retailers, restaurants and mens’ interest websites.

We had two prime digital poster spots in Piccadilly Circus courtesy of Clear Channel and free media up in Scotland (the Drum is based up in Glasgow) via STV which goes live next week during broadcast of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here – perfect media placement, not just because of the huge ratings for the show but because watching the delicacies consumed in bush tucker trials might be that extra incentive needed to prompt investigating vegetables more closely! After all, it seems insects are the future!

I have been asked to write a blog post discussing the creative inspiration behind the campaign. The initiative came out of Plan It Day which took place at Truman Brewery at the end of September this year – the tagline of which is ‘marketing can change the world’. This is an annual event whereby brands offer their infrastructure and creatives and planners; to help charities and social enterprises.

This year the challenges have included: Coca-Cola helping tackle littering, and Air BnB promoting local businesses, IBM developing a cognitive tool to help the police find missing people, Childlike and the NSPCC to raise awareness of the fact that they deal with children’s mental health, not just domestic and child abuse cases, and meet your future, an initiative to help apprentices get exposure to corporate workplaces. Amnesty International helped to foster goodwill towards immigrants through a social campaign inspired by the ice bucket challenges encouraging gestures of support via selfies under #iwelcome. Greengrass and O2 brought to life the #walkthetalk to get men to campaign for gender equality. All in all it was great to be involved in something that can benefit these important causes. The Drum has put together a good round up of the day here:

Drum Do It Day Wrap Up

A very Meaty challenge was laid down to us by the Eating Better alliance and World Resources Institute. When I say ‘us’ I mean an assorted group of volunteers working in creative agencies (including RAPP, Krow, Duel, Ogilvy One, Hubbub, Kittcatt Nohr and Theobald Fox) giving their time to the initiative. I was there as part of my ethical policy, to give some time to wholesome non-profits.

The challenge was: “how do we encourage men to eat less meat?” The background is that high levels of meat consumption in developed countries like the UK are having a detrimental effect on our health and on the health of our plant. Shifting our eating patterns to eat meat (particularly red and processed meat) less often and in smaller portions would cut rates of cancer (particularly bowel cancer). However, Eating Better Alliance let us know that ingrained eating habits and the cultural significance of meat eating are big barriers to change. So this was the challenge we had to overcome.

According to a poll by meat snack company Pepperoni in 2015, men would rather give up sex, Sky Sports or their job than become vegetarian and 62% said they would never consider giving up meat. Other research showed that men associate vegetarianism with lack of manliness or believe (erroneously, as it happens) that a staple diet without meat will not provide enough protein. So what we are faced with is both ignorance and an ingrained attachment to meat as core to masculinity – that is what needed to be shifted.

We’re under no illusions that this will be an easy task,” says Daniel Vennard of the World Resources Institute. “Eating meat has been perceived as being masculine for years, with advertising and marketing campaigns contributing to 6 out of 10 men exceeding the UK government intake of red and processed meat per week, compared to only 1 in 4 women.

There is a cultural root to this. Meat has become associated in our imagination with ‘red blooded’ strength, brawn and with assertive masculinity. This was sacrilized by religion and ancient cultures and has been built by advertising. At the same time, many men still harbour false beliefs about vegetables or dismiss them as worthy or just ‘not for them’.

Sitting in the Truman Brewery, in Brick Lane it occurred to me that this was a cultural challenge, and the inspiration came from my experience in behavioural sciences and semiotics. Firstly the idea of creating a social norm to reframe the debate about eating choices. It was important that did not seek to knock men for eating too much meat, but rather to nudge men into eating more vegetables. Secondly, semiotic thinking as applied to cultural insight spans across culture to mine it for useful metaphors to be used for inspiration. A example of this is a Pot Noodle campaign inspired by semiotics that implicitly compared fast food with porn.

We got to #vegcurious by thinking about parallel categories in culture (grooming and sexual identity) ways in which men are discovering an emergent less one dimensional masculinity. There also seems to be an emergent empathy with specifically ‘male problems’ for example as reflected in support for campaigns like CALM (male suicide) and November (prostate, bowel cancer), that query male hardness and invulnerability.

So #vegcurious somewhat ties in with these discourses by being a playful and daring questioning of one-dimensional masculinity. What better way to do that than to also reference sex, which is part of popular culture and (sexual innuendo is a big part of British advertising – “you can do IT anywhere” being a stock trope to advertise any easy service [hint: the joke is you’re meant to think it’s sex, but it isn’t, you mucky bugger]). Anecdotal evidence suggests that most Millenials don’t necessarily identify as straight.

Gender at the cutting edge has been under question for a while with bi-curious, asexual, polyamory, transgenderism and liminality now hot topics, isn’t it time to be #vegcurious too? #vegcurious is a way to signal that you a progressive and promiscuous food wise.

And a crucial point here is that is it has the potential to scale the cultural barrier by arguing for indulgence not abstinence (c.f. the no-on of teetotalism in Responsible Drinking comms) but taps rather in a rights discourse, the right explore and experiment! The fact that along with #vegcurious you can say that you’re ‘not ready to commit’ to veg, hints at a transgressive playing the field ethos that retain a sense of positive choice.

The main target for #vegcurious is 18-25 year old men because Eating Better Alliance believes they are a softer target – research shows that the stereotypical link between meat and masculinity appears to be less relevant to younger generations. Indications are that younger men are becoming increasingly health conscious, progressive and open minded and are less swayed by peer pressure too.  So the heart of the idea is designed to activate them. And who doesn’t want to be curious!? It is hard to disagree with. The beauty of it is it gives the perfect jumping off point to present and showcase the world of vegetables. Bruno Loubet the French chef who owns the Grain Store eatery in Kings Cross has leant his support to #vegcurious in this video



As celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s says about his book Veg Every Day.

“I’d say that a life without meat is no deprivation. My food is as tasty and satisfying as ever; and even though I’m no longer cooking my own home-reared meat and self-caught fish, I still feel fully connected to the land and the seasons. And I can’t complain about energy levels—I may even have shed a pound or two..all in all, I’m feeling pretty good.”

The beauty of #Vegcurious that it is not about stopping men from being men, but a great excuse to showcase the wondrous world of vegetables; a world many young men may have dismissed as boring, worthy and/or simply ‘not for them’. The creative team want #Vegcurious to go beyond a hashtag to become a cultural idea, a meme, and if it gets big to eventually enter common lexicon in the Oxford English Dictionary. We have pasted below for a small taste of some of the recipes associated with #vegcurious

Dirty Mushroom Burger

Sue Dibb from Eating Better Alliance said of the campaign. “We’re delighted to be working with the marketing and advertising industry to create this innovative campaign to raise awareness and help encourage men to eat less meat, to better their health and the health of the planet.” No tangible results yet as this was a soft launch but the assets look great and there is great belief in the idea. And there are plans to extend this campaign into 2017.

Eating Alliance statement:

Our addiction to putting meat centre-plate is a major contributor to climate change and experts agree we can’t possibly meet the Paris Climate Commitment to prevent dangerous climate change unless we help people shift their eating towards more plant-based diets. That doesn’t mean giving up meat completely: Eating Better’s message is eat less and choose better with win-wins for health and the planet. High levels of meat consumption (particularly red & processed meats) are linked to heart disease, diabetes and cancers.

Chris Arning is a creative problem solver applying semiotics and other insight methodologies to solve communication challenges for brands

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