If you are in New York City and happen to venture into Times Square, you might be able to see part of a new vegan advertisement campaign featuring the slogan "Be Fair. Be Vegan".
While this is a first for veganism in terms of being such high profile ad placements, there are some aspects of the campaign that make it not as optimal for animals as it could have been.
The Advertisements Themselves
The most significant part of the campaign are the ads themselves. They feature black and white depictions of nonhuman animals (and sometimes humans) with bold lettering in red and white fonts.
I can't really comment on the efficacy of the imagery, but from my limited background in graphic design, and my personal feelings about the ads, I feel they are decently well done and reminiscent of the (RED) campaign.
The Advertisement's Direct Impact
According to Investopedia, the cost per impression of a large Time's Square advertisement is around 1.7 cents, whereas a billboard in a less prime area costs around 0.5 cents per impression. In terms of cost effectiveness and direct impact, it seems reasonable to claim that paying for premium-priced ad placement might not be justified.
However, part of the goal of the Be Fair. Be Vegan campaign seems to be to generate press about the new advertisements. It's a novel story to some degree, but I'm unaware of how often Times Square advertisements are covered by the media in general, and thus am unsure if there was any evidence or precedent for what the organizers were hoping to achieve.
Unfortunately, coverage so has been fairly limited. The only prominent news coverage of the campaign that I could find was from VegNews.com, though the post did receive over 6,000 shares. On August 19th, Alternet published an article titled "Joaquin Phoenix on Huge New Animal Justice Campaign: 'Now More Than Ever, The World Needs to Hear This Message'". I suspect more liberal leaning outlets might roll out coverage over the next week, if they do at all. For that we will have to wait and see.
Be Fair, Be Vegan Website's Technical Problems
When I first saw this campaign online, and after seeing the ads themselves (also online, not in person), I immediately went to the website that seems to be a prominent call to action.
According to HubSpot, nearly 25% of consumers will look up a company after seeing a mobile ad. While a mobile ad vs. a Times Square ad are fairly different, I think the underlying message is that a significant amount of people will refer to the befairbevegan.com website. (I have requested information about their web traffic and will update if they agree to release some of the stats).
However, when I went to the campaign's website, I encountered a white screen and a significant load time, to the degree of three-five seconds of a blank webpage. It turns out the actual site was fairly unoptimized, loading megabytes and megabytes of images.
If I was the average person who Googled this campaign, I would probably have closed the tab, or at least been a bit frustrated. (The only possible way I could interpret the slow load time as being a good thing is that it might give the impression that the site is experiencing server load issues, which might lead people to believe that a lot of other people are trying to access the site).
The Website's Messaging Problems: Short Term
After dealing with the mild frustration of having a poorly optimized and slow site, the next thing that I found most interesting was the very hardline vegan stance taken. While I think it's okay that they have sections focusing on debunking "humane", organic dairy and backyard eggs, I'm also unsure if that message will resonate with people as opposed to having more clearly cut issues explained like industrial animal agriculture and the suffering experienced by many farmed animals.
The next tabs are about honey and wool. I'll admit that I cringed a bit when I saw those sections, and even being vegan I still think honey and wool are fairly fringe issues and I don't bring them up in my advocacy. To put myself in the shoes of the average Joe or Jane, I would probably see those items and be turned off about the whole thing.
The "Veganism Will Solve World Hunger" Argument
This idea might be very compelling for many people, especially as we tend to value humans over farmed animals, however I haven't found much evidence to back up this hypothesis. Robert Paarlberg, a food and agricultural researcher who taught at Wellesley College, writes in his book Food Politics:
... the payoff from a 50 percent cut in meat consumption in rich countries is only one-half of one percent reduction in child hunger.
(Paarlberg has since retired, though I did have the opportunity to interview him for my upcoming documentary about food and biotechnology.)
Long Term Messaging Problems
Finally, the strong environmentalist and conservationist message is probably not ideal for those who care about reducing wild animal suffering. That's probably a large discussion, though I'll reference Brian Tomasik's piece that is relevant to this topic.
I think we will have to wait to see what additional media coverage these advertisements receive and what type of web traffic there is. I think there is a place for high-value ad placements, but I think the call to action and messaging on the CTA should be optimized for efficacy and factualness.
What did you think of these ads? Do you think they are a good strategy for future animal advocacy?