Researchers and bread company team up to improve attitudes towards ex-offenders

A multidisciplinary research team from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, studied how messages about a fresh start could improve public attitudes towards people with a criminal history.

Knowing from previous research that the American perspective often associates drug addiction with a blotchy character, the UT team of researchers hypothesized that framing a messaging campaign in terms of a fresh start mentality could counteract the attitude of blame which may make people less inclined to help addicts. and ex-offenders.

To test their theories, the team — doctoral marketing student Tyler Milfeld of Wichita, Kansas, and Dan Flint, royal professor of marketing at UT’s Haslam College of Business, and Eric Haley, professor DeForrest Jackson at UT. College of Communication and Information– in partnership with Dave’s Killer Bread.

The growing brand hires people with criminal backgrounds, but does not advertise this fact. The company’s co-founder, Dave Dahl, is one of some 65 million American adults with a criminal record. Prior to launching Dave’s Killer Bread in 2005, Dahl served over 15 years in prison for offenses including assault, armed robbery, drug distribution and burglary.

The concept of a fresh start is based on the belief that people have free will to create a new beginning for themselves. The researchers investigated whether messaging campaigns on this topic could be beneficial for drug addicts and ex-offenders, two groups that often struggle to find employment due to negative public perception, as well as brands that sponsor such campaigns.

Frame messages to change audience attitudes

The study used veterans as a comparison group, as favorable public opinion towards veterans is well documented and several brands presented stories of veterans starting afresh (showing their transition to civilian life) in ads.

Researchers use the term framing the state of mind of cultural identity (CIMF) to refer to the communication of beliefs so ingrained in culture that they seem like common sense. In American culture, the fresh start mentality is an example of such a framework. The study found that combining CIMF with explicit references to a stigmatized group not only made consumers more receptive to supporting the group, but also improved consumers’ opinion and purchase intention towards the sponsoring brand.

The team concluded that the fresh start mindset offers an effective communications strategy for brands, nonprofits, and public policy organizations who wish to help stigmatized populations.

“Influencing attitudes towards these stigmatized groups is extremely difficult, even in an experimental setting,” Milfeld said. “Our results showed the power to activate the fresh start mindset and involve it in this group.”

Use research to provide opportunities

Based on the team’s findings, Dave’s Killer Bread launched a marketing campaign to publicize its hiring practices as well as the Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation’s Second Chance Employment Initiative, which helps other companies to create employment opportunities for people with criminal backgrounds. The company said the campaign exceeded expectations in all metrics.

“This research was valuable for two reasons: first, it confirmed that people are in fact familiar with the second chance job, and second, that the way this concept is communicated by a brand like Dave’s Killer Bread has a significant impact on the viewer’s feeling towards both. practice and brand. It sounds simple, but it was very enlightening for us, ”said Cristina Watson, brand manager for Dave’s Killer Bread.

“Our research provided them with a way to promote support for ex-offenders and generate more positive brand attitudes,” Milfeld said. “We are very proud of this study and the foundational finding on how to improve public responsiveness to a highly stigmatized group. “

“A New Beginning for Stigmatized Groups: The Effect of Framing Cultural Identity Mindset in Brand Advertising”, published in the Advertising newspaper in May, is available in line.


Lindsey Owen (865-974-6375, [email protected])

Stacy Estep (865-974-7881, [email protected])

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