Are anti-meat subway ads effective? Yes
If you grew up in North America anytime since the invention of advertising, you’ve likely spent much of your lifetime being inundated with ads, particularly for food. Selling their juicy burgers and succulent steaks, holiday turkeys and happy chicken nuggets, the meat and restaurant industries have long been two of the biggest players in the ad game.
They’ve never had a problem telling you what to eat and how to think and feel about consuming animal products. Yet when those who oppose the use of animals for food join in on the free-speech advertising fun, they are often met with criticism that typically sounds like this: “I think it’s forcing other people’s opinions on others.”
That was the response of Toronto subway commuter David McLain, talking recently to the CBC about new ads from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, posted in 25 stations across the city. The ads, which are non-graphic, feature animals including pigs and crabs, and simply ask consumers to consider animals as living beings rather than food, with the words: “I am ME, not MEAT. See the individual. Go vegan.”
“It should be a personal choice and not advertised,” added fellow commuter Bronwen Alsop to the CBC.
As far as PETA goes, the ads are undoubtedly tamer than more controversial campaigns for which the group has become known. Either way, PETA’s overall effectiveness is undeniable, with many campaigns leading to big changes.
Twenty-five years ago, General Motors ceased using live animals in crash testing thanks in part to PETA public pressure. In 1994, fashion designer Calvin Klein pledged to no longer use fur, after members of PETA took to his offices in protest.
Inspired by PETA’s more recent “Fur is Dead” campaign, numerous other notable designers have since followed suit. And after 20 years of PETA’s “McCruelty” campaign, McDonald’s announced last year it will be implementing less cruel slaughter methods for the millions of chickens it kills each year.
If PETA can influence change in these mega brands, there is no doubt it can get Toronto subway commuters thinking.
Animal rights campaigns showcase alternative perspectives and inspire new thinking. Ads like those in Toronto can change minds and alter actions. The Vancouver Humane Society has been running similar ads on buses since 2013, with one recently asking consumers to consider why we see one animal as a friend (dog) but the other as food (pig).
“The metrics provided by the ad company show that hundreds of thousands of people see our bus ads,” says Peter Fick with VHS. Though it may be difficult to measure how many minds they may be changing, Fick says, “The overwhelmingly positive response we get from our supporters and the public on social media and in correspondence suggests we are.”
A recent study out of Dalhousie University suggests that while the rate at which Canadians are identifying as vegan or vegetarian has remained relatively the same over the last decade, that number is very likely to rise.
Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie explains that an estimated 2.3 million Canadians currently consider themselves vegetarian, up from 900,000 in 2003. An additional 850,000 identify as vegan, bringing the total to nearly 10 per cent of the population. Most significant though, is that more than half are under 35 years of age. Thus, as Charlebois states, “numbers are highly likely to go up.”
It is undeniable that a cultural shift is upon us, and more Canadians are now considering the negative impacts of consuming animal products, and the benefits of choosing plant-based alternatives.
As we all learn more about the detrimental environmental effects of the meat, dairy and egg industries, along with the systematic animal cruelty inherent in factory farming, and the human health risks associated with consuming animal products, plant-based eating will only continue to grow in popularity. And ads like PETA’s will only continue to add to that growth.
But animal rights ads and campaigns do not only exist to guide consumers to new ways of thinking, feeling and acting; ads also serve to showcase the sheer power and presence of the movement.
Jessica Scott-Reid is a freelance writer and animal advocate.