Murphy: Rejecting the Vegan Message

In politics, the rule of thumb has long been that negative campaigning generates traction. Conventional wisdom suggests that the more a candidate smears his or her opponent, the greater the impact on the voters.

But in marketing consumer products, ad agencies have traditionally gone in the other direction: Sell the benefits of your product, create “good feelings” about the brand and avoid spending precious share of mind on trying to trash the competition.

That’s changed in recent years, perhaps in tandem with the coarsening of political speech. With many of the “alternative” categories competing with conventional food products, the approach is not to promote the benefits of organic or vegetarian, but rather spend time and money attacking mainstream producers, processors and marketers.

When the upstarts aren’t collecting serious windfalls by selling out to the very companies they profess to loathe, that is.

A great example of those dynamics is taking place overseas, specifically in Ireland. As a report in The Irish Times detailed, a vegan activist group was recently refused permission to run attack ads aimed at that country’s dairy industry.

The ads in question were developed by a group called Go Vegan World and were to appear as posters on Dublin Bus vehicles and in stations operated by Irish Rail. However, Exterion Media, the contractor responsible for selling ad space on buses and in train stations, deemed the ads to be “emotive and provocative” and likely to draw complaints, according to the newspaper story.

The Go Vegan World campaign is familiar to anyone who’s paid attention to the anti-industry activists in this country. The approach is transparent: Attack animal agriculture, and along with it the use of animals in medical research.

In December, Go Vegan started an outdoor ad campaign with billboards and bus stop posters across Ireland targeting the “horrors” of eating turkeys and pigs, drinking milk and using mice in research. At the Granard farmers market in County Longford, for example, a poster featured the photo of a calf with the caption, “They trust us — we take them from their mothers and butcher them.” The ad included the hashtags #DitchDairy and #FactNotFad.

And that was one of the ads that wasn’t rejected.

The ads that were rejected by Exterion Media showed cows and calves with the following statements: “Humane milk is a myth — don’t buy it,” and “Dairy takes babies from their mothers.”

A Positive Approach
Now, you tell me what’s the big difference between “We take them from their mothers and butcher them” and “Dairy takes babies from their mothers.” Nevertheless, the former statement was apparently fine, while the latter was deemed to be “emotive and provocative.”

Go Vegan World officials denied any connection, but the group’s ads launched just weeks after Ireland’s National Dairy Council began a $2.3 million campaign to promote cow’s milk as “plant-based,” on the basis that cows eat grass, and as The Irish Times story noted, “disparaging vegan alternatives such as soy and almond milk.”

Which, as previously noted, isn’t always the best approach to building brand loyalty and stoking those warm, fuzzy feelings about one’s product line.

The Times reported that the NDC ads that ran on billboards, on Dublin busses and at train stations prompted more than 100 complaints to Ireland’s Advertising Standards Authority.

Gee, I wonder who might have prompted ordinary citizens to lodge dozens of formal complaints with a government agency responsible for monitoring advertising ethics? The ethics of advertising isn’t an issue most people care enough about to spend time and energy filing protests.

Of course, the go-to strategy for veganistas is demonizing all activities involving animals. Consider the comments of Sandra Higgins, Go Vegan World’s campaign director and the founder of the Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary Ireland, as posted on the group’s website:

“We imagine that non-human lives hardly matter at all. We live as though our difference from other species entitles us to use them and that they exist for our benefit. This view is not only inaccurate, it is unethical. Nobody wants … their children to be the property of someone else, so anybody who is not vegan is participating in violence that directly contradicts the values that we all claim to have.”

How can you refute that statement?

Answer: You don’t.

Instead, the industry needs to stay focused on promoting animal well-being and educating consumers about sustainable food production, environmental stewardship and the importance of food security and agricultural sustainability.

The demographic that buys into the no-animals-never-ever is but a thin slice of the adult population, about the same percentage of voters who pull the lever for the Green Party in national elections here in The States. Those born-again veggies aren’t going to be persuaded that the philosophy of veganism has serious problems.

But taking the low road isn’t the most productive pathway toward building a positive connection with the business of raising livestock and producing animal foods.

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.


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Submitted by Donknottz on Fri, 01/12/2018 - 11:47

Thanks for stating that you can't argue with the message. There is no viable reason exploit animals for food in 2018 other than taste and that is not worth the life of an innocent being.

Submitted by John Williamson on Mon, 01/15/2018 - 13:10

And even taste isn't a realistic reason. Once you haven't eaten other animals for a while, your ability to taste re-appears more strongly and meat/dairy/eggs/honey etc. are disgusting to you, probably partly because they are unhealthy for you and your body can tell the difference.

In reply to by Donknottz (not verified)

Submitted by Farmer Bob on Fri, 01/12/2018 - 12:55

Would you like to be hooked up to a machine and have your very essence sucked out of you twice a day so somebody else can make mobey from you? Didn’t think so.

Submitted by Thalassa on Fri, 01/12/2018 - 19:43

Well Dan you admit that the argument cannot be refuted but then act as though vegans are somehow unreasonable. Its like your entire statement here is "these people are not wrong but I still don't like them because they make me uncomfortable and they're still a minority so hahaha." Do you not have the insight to see how sophomoric this article is? The only reason you're likely not utterly embarrassed to print this because you're certain that other meat eaters will agree through sheer emotional knee jerk confirmation bias without calling you out on how poor your reasoning is.

Submitted by Eithne Spain on Sat, 01/13/2018 - 05:15

The 3 comments already posted at it all. Your article supports the facts of the Go Vegan World ads and your rebuttal seems to amount to only "I want to continue eating meat and dairy so nyaaa... And vegans are in a minority so ignore what they say"... Not a great argument in favour of the dairy industry now is it?

Submitted by Sad on Sun, 01/14/2018 - 11:26

I pity the author and hope he or she has the humility to one day feel deeply ashamed for their abusive, exploitive actions.

Submitted by Jm on Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:32

Looks like the vegans decided to show up and try to silence you, Dan with their superior morals again. Unfortunately it looks like most can’t spell or understand your logic, poor nutrition I suspect. Guess they don’t understand, we try not to refute them because they can’t or won’t listen to logical reason or a belief that doesn’t agree with their views so it’s not worth engaging them, it has nothing to do with supporting their flawed conclusions. As much as they claim they’re not on the fringes of society, these loonies value and elevate an animal life over human life. Fortunately most of society doesn’t agree with said values and will listen. To live on this earth something has to die for you to live whether thats a plant or an animal, so apparently vegans do believe in discriminating against the value of certain life versus life they approve and are in fact promoting discrimination and enslaving plants but that’s ok because they’re aren’t “sentinel” beings. Hypocrisy much?

Submitted by Farmer Joe on Tue, 01/16/2018 - 09:09

To live on this earth something has to die for you to live whether thats a plant or an animal.."
This is true. Just to live in houses we have killed animal life. Just to use electricity we have killed animal life. However, what is wrong with trying to do this less? We don't need meat or animal products to survive in modern America. And we kill or torture for these. This is why I am personally a vegan - it's unnecessary killing.

Also, I believe the word you are looking for is not "sentinel" but rather "sentient." I'd rather not kill something that can feel pain. I don't think that is hypocrisy.

In reply to by Jm (not verified)

Submitted by Laura on Mon, 01/15/2018 - 18:16

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Brian Laura

Submitted by bob on Mon, 01/15/2018 - 21:38

To the vegans. Boy are you wrong. We raise Beef cattle on grass. They graze their entire life just like they would in nature. Only we keep them healthy and protect them from predators. We help rescue them when they wander off and get into life threatening conditions like quick mud or a patch of nightshade. Nature can be far crueler than man. I bet every one of you is pro choice, so murder is okay when it suits your purpose or point of view. Hypocrites thy name is vegan.

Submitted by Farmer Joe on Tue, 01/16/2018 - 08:58

No matter how safe you keep them, you send them to get killed in the end. We don't need meat to survive, thus you are killing them unnecessarily. Before calling vegans hypocrites, how about look at your own life? What are you doing to better the world?

In reply to by bob (not verified)

Submitted by Billy on Thu, 01/25/2018 - 12:05

Man is part of nature. We are animals. And we are the cruelest, most destructive species. I was in meat production when I was in college. Then I went to a real plant, saw how cattle was processed, and it revolted me down to my core. How any meat processor could claim this is "safe and humane" is LUDICROUS! Cows being skinned alive choking on their blood. (Not saying all plants operate this way, but many large ones get away with that sort of evil treatment). With 7 billion people on this planet, there is no way it can be sustainable anymore. If we had 1 million or a couple hundred thousand, sure, let's eat meat. But now, at this capacity, it won't work without screwing our environment. I dropped out, went into environmental science and went vegetarian. 20 years later I'm now vegan. 45 and still kicking. I don't expect you to agree though, since I can tell you are religious and anti-science.

In reply to by bob (not verified)

Submitted by vegan on Tue, 01/16/2018 - 09:12

I will never feel bad for trying to cause less suffering in the world. Why point out the hypocrisy of someone who is trying to do good. How are you doing good in world?

Submitted by Lisa on Wed, 01/24/2018 - 22:37

A survey from 2017 found that 6% of Americans are now vegan, and it's growing fast. We're hardly a fringe group anymore, it's not the 1990s :-)

Submitted by Alice on Thu, 01/25/2018 - 02:41

Don't do to others what you wouldn't want done to yourself. It is as simple as that

Submitted by Lucy on Thu, 01/25/2018 - 06:51

I agree with the other vegans on here, this article only shows that you can't argue against facts. Yes, I understand that a lot of people will say something like "But MY cows are not raised inhumanely!!!" which nobody else besides you can contest to, but the facts remain that over 98% of all animals raised for food are not raised on your little farms, they are raised in factory farms.

Your little farms can vanish into thin air, and it would not impact the market one bit. If you truly care about sustainability and environmental impact, than this should worry you greatly.

But I like how you agree that combating vegan arguments doesn't work because the average joe is not dumb. We see this all the time in pseudoscience, when you can't argue using facts, you often choose to deny facts altogether and make your own facts.