About 1.5 million dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters each year because they weren’t adopted or had health issues that worried potential owners.
Agencies often use “Adopt, Don’t Shop!” »Campaigns to encourage people to adopt or donate in shelters, but their effectiveness may be limited.
How can adoption agencies persuade people to save pets in need of homes?
In an article published on December 26, I investigated the problem of pet adoption using advertisements from the online Petfinder database. The paper quantified the language patterns of nearly 680,000 adopted and non-adopted pet ads.
Concrete and analytical style
The use of articles, like “a” and “the,” and prepositions, like “above” and “about,” indicate concrete and analytical thinking.
For example, a very analytical ad from a dog that was adopted read, “Meet Christina! Breed: Bull Terrier Mix, Estimated Date of Birth: 8/21/18, Gender: Female, Weight: 6-8 lbs, Health: up to date on vaccinations and preventative measures, Rescued from: South Carolina. “
By comparison, pronouns and storytelling words such as “he”, “they” and “extremely” indicate a more narrative style.
An example of an ad that used many narrative words read, “Look at the cuteness! This boy is adorable and he is full of love and is a great player. Make sure you have plenty of cat toys because this boy loves his toys! Jack and his brothers are also super unique because they are polydactyl in their front legs.
Each ad was given a score of 0 to 100, with high scores suggesting the ad style was more analytical and less like a story.
Successful ads were more likely to contain a concrete, analytical style than unsuccessful ads.
Animal adoption is not the only setting where such verbal patterns can have a persuasive impact. A study of HPV vaccination advertisements showed that parents and doctors viewed formal, factual messages more convincing than those that were less straightforward.
Related research on peer-to-peer loans also suggests that people are more likely to receive cash if their online ad is written in a concrete and analytical manner.
Facts and photos
A second important adoption indicator was the rate of social words in the ad, such as “buddy”, “friend” or “help”.
Pet data has revealed that social words could be red flags for potential owners. Most adopters care about whether the animal is healthy and has its vaccines, and they want to know more about the adoption process.
Humanized details – stating that the animal is a “lover” and will be a lifelong “companion” – could indicate the agency is hiding vital details about the animal’s health.
The loan study also found that people were less likely to receive money from strangers if their ad contained high rates of social words and humanizing details.
Words weren’t the only key elements of adoption announcements. On average, ads for adopted animals had more photos than non-adopted animals. Photos can help reduce uncertainty for owners whose introduction to a pet is online.
Changing what people think about adoption
There is some evidence that language patterns can affect the way people think and experience the adoption process.
In one experiment, I asked nearly 1,000 people at Amazon Mechanical Turk to read an ad associated with adopted pets – an analytical writing style with few social words – or unadopted pets. – a less analytical style of writing with more social words.
Those who read the analytical and less social ad were almost 6% more likely to say they would adopt the pet and 4.5% more likely to say they would visit their shelter than those who read the less analytical and more social announcement.
These are small effects, but they can have a big impact because millions of animals need a home.
The writing style is important for the adoption of a pet. If agencies think carefully about how their ads are served, pets may have a better chance of being adopted.