Showing the kinds of words that appeal — and those that don’t — in agricultural messages, research by the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Center for Public Issues Education (PIE Center) recently debuted in a national academic journal.
Led by doctoral student Joy Goodwin, the PIE Center’s agricultural message testing project appears in the current issue of the Journal of Applied Communications.
Goodwin wrote “Is Perception Reality? Improving Agricultural Messages by Discovering How Consumers Perceive Messages” with former PIE Center staffer Christy Chiarelli and Development Director Tracy Irani.
Analysis of consumers’ perceptions and understanding of commonly used agricultural words and phrases led to recommendations that communicators shift their portrayal of agricultural practices from corporate terms such as “best management practices” to more casual words like local, family-owned and farmer.
The research also identified an opportunity to educate consumers about the definition of “sustainable growth” and “local” produce, as focus group participants did not associate a solid meaning with either.
In general, participants in the four focus groups involved in the study tended to favor messages that gave them clear mental images of people and action, far more so than corporate-sounding themes, which they tended to view through a cynical lens.
Following the research, the PIE Center secured a Specialty Crop Block Grant from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to explore consumer perceptions and definitions of “locally grown” produce as well as its economic impact.
“The PIE Center has provided me with great opportunities to work on many great research projects, and it is awesome to know that others are recognizing the importance of our work,” Goodwin said. “I can’t wait to see the impact that current and future PIE Center research has throughout the industry.”
Irani, one of the study’s co-authors and the center’s development director, called having the center’s research recognized in a peer-reviewed journal for the first time since it opened in 2009 “great news.”
The 2010 perceptions research, funded by the Agriculture Institute of Florida, spawned additional projects. In 2011, PIE Center researchers analyzed web-based agriculture awareness campaigns in all 50 states and asked consumers about their perceptions of strategically framed messages about agricultural issues.
The PIE Center will reveal results from the third installment on March 20 at the University of Florida’s Straughn Center at 10 a.m. The outcomes show what needs to be done differently to help the agricultural industry appeal to the public more effectively.