There are two factors that health enthusiasts and athletes are always focused on – physical exercise and the perfect dietary requirement. Both factors have a plethora of choices – from deadlifting to yoga as well as adopting the keto and then changing it to a paleo diet. However there has been one diet which has been gaining momentum – the plant-based or vegan movement.

And this movement recently had a boost in its proliferation through Netflix’s promotion of a documentary – Game Changers. The documentary focused on how adopting veganism helped boost athletes’ performances and increased the power levels during their activities. The documentary helped to eradicate myths about veganism such as the lack of protein “weakening” an athlete’s strength and in fact, reverses that myth by proving that it actually boosted performances. 

Plant-based Fighters & Athletes

Directing the documentary is Oscar winner Louie Psihoyos and Hollywood honchos James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger bankrolling the film, it also features interviews with big-name stars in Tinseltown and sporting fields such as Hong Kong action movie legend Jackie Chan, Grand Slam champ Novak Djokovic, six-time F1 winner Lewis Hamilton and world record Strongman Patrick Baboumian. Psihoyos curates the film through the eyes of The Ultimate Fighter winner James Wilks and illustrates how his journey of a plant-based diet helped him improve his focus and performances. 

In October, the documentary premiered on Netflix and the response can only be described as phenomenal. Many have unequivocally adopted and they attest to the benefits of a plant-based diet after watching the film. On social media, there were around 60,000 mentions of the dietary movement since the global Netflix premiere of the documentary on 16 October. Sportspeople, fitness gurus and muscle maniacs pored over the documentary and argued in the social media space whether a plant-based diet could be beneficial to their regimes. Testaments popped up everywhere online with more athletes trumpeting their support – such as Indian cricketer Virat Kohli who proclaimed that he ‘had never felt better’ and Game Changers had vindicated his beliefs on diets. The documentary also garnered support from international organisations such as PETA to relay their message to their specific audiences. With media reach of 32 and 6 million respectively, the two profiles boosted the attention on the highly-engaging documentary.

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(Figure above represent the number of times the documentary Game Changers was mentioned in relation to Netflix and the veganism movement during the months of October and November 2019.)

Growing Interest in Veganism Fuelled by Netflix

Based on this documentary phenomenon, it would be a misnomer to call veganism or plant-based diets a fad. This lifestyle choice has been in practice for years by various groups of people such as animal rights activists and Straight-Edge hardcore musicians. To put this dietary choice into the context of sporting excellence adds another dimension to the lifestyle as it attempts to break the preconceived positive benefits of meat-based diets. The Australian city of Melbourne has normalised the plant-based diet in its menus that it becomes much more accessible for people to easily adopt the practice without breaking a step. The city is now known to be one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world. 

Originally released in January 2018 at the Sundance film festival with relatively low fanfare, the recent frenzy over the documentary revealed an interesting insight – Netflix had provided a new platform for film producers to reach out to the masses. And this accessibility amplifies that reach to a myriad of groups such as environmental activists, fitness enthusiasts and those who are just curious of the movement. Without specifically targeting a particular audience, watching the documentary became an inclusive phenomenon without scaring away new fans of the practice. 

Unsurprisingly, the main demographic that paid attention were male (58.18%) and within the age range of 25-34 years (33.84%) – the prime age of gym freaks and muscled bodies (Meltwater Audience Insight Report on Game Changers, Nov 2019). The report also highlights other measurements such as online habits and personalities of the demographic group. Using AI to sieve and aggregate the raw data retrieved from social media, the audiences watching Game Changers have an affinity for social activism, curious to explore new ideas and have a tendency to succumb to try (or buy) new things.

With the wide coverage on social media, it expectedly influenced those on the fence and even converted skeptics to adopt the vegan lifestyle. Presumably the main objective of the documentary is to influence people to at least try the diet after watching the film while those who already had adopted the lifestyle highlighted the positive effect that veganism has on the society. Echoing this writer’s colleague Jason Hill’s post on Game Changers, messaging plays a key role in influencing new opinions and persuading the public to switch their diets. Judging by the popularity of Game Changers, the vegan community should perhaps re-strategise their messaging to focus on strength training and athletic performance.

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Changing the Vegan Game

With online data being an integral aspect for both MNCs and public institutions, the non-governmental sector should transition in using alternative data insights to proliferate their messages. In a recent report, the global vegan food market is expected to grow in the near future and is estimated to be worth US$24 billion. By incorporating various channels of data sets, decision makers can strategically deliver their messages for the intended audiences. Using social data and business intelligence together, vegan business owners can identify potential markets, boost investment in thriving cities and re-strategise in less performing ones.

The documentary has received an overwhelmingly positive response from the global Netflix audience and this would indefinitely boost the social movement. And with any topic which receives widespread attention, there are detractors ready to put their opinions across. Many scientists and nutritionists have come up to debunk the show’s overarching message of a plant-based diet and strength conditioning. With more than 12,600 mentions in Reddit and forums alone, fitness enthusiasts wanted further clarification on whether it would affect their regimes or should they cut down on their amino acids. Even Joe Rogan, the ubiquitous commentator of the Ultimate Fighting Championships called out on the documentary and invited a showdown between Paleo advocate Chris Kresser and Wilks to prove their points. And the debate ended with Rogan praising Wilks for his tenacious defence of the vegan movement. 

Game Changers may have caused a ripple on audiences – but ultimately adopting veganism as a lifestyle is still a personal choice. Platforms such as Netflix give the impetus to idea makers and movements to generate interest and garner support for their causes. By evolving the methods of informing the public and educating the masses, getting people to adopt the vegan lifestyle will be less of an obstacle but instead they will be stepping up their game.