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Book Review: “Animal Impact: Secrets Proven to Achieve Results and Move the World,” by Caryn Ginsberg

By Piper Hoffman — March 26, 2012

Review by Piper Hoffman

Organizations and individuals that advocate for animals are heavy on passion and commitment, but sometimes light on marketing savvy. Enter Animal Impact: Secrets Proven to Achieve Results and Move the World (Priority Ventures Group, 2011), by Caryn Ginsberg, which provides a crash course on marketing strategy for activists in an easy-to-digest handbook.

Ginsberg asks the reader early on, “Please don’t read this book.” What she means is “don’t just read this book: interact with and implement it.” The book includes activities and thought experiments, and a free companion journal file is available on the book’s website for taking notes. The information in Animal Impact is presented in bite-size portions, with chapters broken into smaller sections, anecdotes, and lists. Each chapter ends with a summarizing “Recap” and a to-do list.

Ginsberg packages her advice in an acronym: ACHIEVE.

Action and Audience

Create Benefits and Cut Barriers

How to Say Something to Someone Instead of Nothing to Everyone

I Am Not My Target Audience

Education Is Not Enough

Voice Matters

Evaluate, Don’t Guess

Each tactic gets its own chapter, complete with inspiring examples of other advocates, including individual activists, shelters, policy groups, and others, implementing it effectively.

Ginsberg’s premise is that animal advocates don’t always do the things that would help animals most, or don’t do them in the most impactful way, and that smart marketing can change that. She notes the frustration some activists feel with people who are not on board with the animal liberation agenda and the confusion as to why they don’t “get it.” And then she turns the tables to show how better marketing could get better results by asking readers to examine their own responses to two hypothetical appeals: one not to shop at malls or large retailers, and another to eat not only vegan, but exclusively raw food.

I found myself resistant to both appeals for reasons that were more pragmatic than ideological. The exercise highlights Ginsberg’s message: simply pleading a case, however moral and justified it may be, is not enough. If people don’t jump right on your bandwagon it doesn’t mean they aren’t interested or sympathetic; a change in strategy may win them over. Identifying their interests and motivations, crafting messages that appeal to and affect them, addressing their reasons for not changing – all of these are part of marketing and are necessary to effective activism.

While I read Animal Impact on the subway one day, the man sitting next to me read over my shoulder. This being New York, he didn’t bother being subtle about it. When we neared my stop, I closed the book and showed him the title in case he wanted to buy it. He eagerly asked if it was about dog training. (I guess he hadn’t been reading that carefully.) Later, applying some of Ginsberg’s principles, I considered what pro-animal messages he might be open to. His interest in trained dogs suggests that he may respond well to messages about adopting dogs from foster homes because foster parents know how well-trained each dog is, or about spaying and neutering dogs because that can help modify their behavior. One way to reach him would, of course, be advertisements on subways. These marketing-related, Ginsberg-derived observations demonstrate that, though this individual wasn’t interested in the book’s actual subject matter (improving advocacy for animals), advocates could still influence him in a way that helps animals.

As Ginsberg puts it, her book is meant to help activists adapt their goals and marketing to ACHIEVEchange. Needless to say, she has that word amalgam trademarked – she does, after all, have an MBA from Stanford and has taught marketing courses.

In fact, Ginsberg has a wagonload of expertise to back up her recommendations. According to the biographical information in the book, she “has worked with the ASPCA, The HSUS [HSUS Senior Vice President Heidi Prescott wrote the book’s foreword], PetSmart Charities, Farm Sanctuary,” and others. She has served on boards “for the Institute for Humane Education and the Humane Research Council.” She has also written articles and delivered presentations at conferences related to the topics she covers in Animal Impact.

One of the book’s publicity blurbs, from Humane Research Council Executive Director Che Green, sums this book up: “Effective animal advocacy is a difficult business. To move people with longstanding, entrenched attitudes and behaviors requires a deep understanding of what it takes to create change. This book will give you the insight you need to get the results you want.”

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