‘Selling’ Veganism

‘Selling’ Veganism

Part of the challenge of creating a vegan or animal-friendly world is that people aren’t easily persuaded to adopt a plant-based lifestyle. When we blog, leaflet, or do any other form of vegan education, we almost need to become expert sales-people to “sell” our compassionate vegan message.

Mark Hawthorne describes some ways to sell compassion in “Framing the Animal Rights Message.”

I agree with most of these “Ten Rules” listed below. Do you?

Ten Rules of Effective Language (by Luntz):

1. Simplicity — Use small words. Avoid words that might force someone to reach for the dictionary (because most people won’t).
2. Brevity — Use short sentences. Never use a sentence when a phrase will do, and never use four words when three can say as much.
3. Credibility is as important as philosophy — People have to believe it to buy it.
4. Consistency matters — Repetition, repetition, repetition. Finding a good message and then sticking with it takes extraordinary discipline, but it pays off tenfold in the end. You may be making yourself sick saying something over and over, but many in your audience will be hearing it for the first time. (During the Prop 2 initiative battle in California, supporters of the measure to ban intensive confinement have constantly said Prop 2 would allow animals “to stand up, turn around, lie down and fully extend their limbs” — often several times in the same interview or debate).
5. Novelty — Offer something new. Words that work often involve a new definition of an old idea (such as when author Ruth Harrison used the term “factory farms” in 1964 to describe what the ag industry calls “concentrated animal feeding operations”).
6. Sound and texture matter — A string of words that have the same first letter, the same sound or the same syllabic cadence is more memorable than a random collection of sounds (see #5).
7. Speak Aspirationally — Messages need to say what people want to hear. Think of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his “I have a dream” speech. (This can be difficult when addressing the plight of animals. I often speak about rescued animals living on sanctuaries, free from pain and fear. Getting people to visit a sanctuary so they can meet these animals themselves is even better.)
8. Visualize — Plant a vivid image. There is one word in the English language that automatically triggers the process of visualization: imagine. (Asking people to imagine their dog or cat being forced to undergo painful medical tests or to be locked in a wire battery cage for two years and then slaughtered can be a way to help people see things differently.)
9. Ask a question. Luntz cites the dairy industry’s “Got Milk?” as perhaps the most memorable print-ad campaign of the past decade.
10. Provide Context and Explain Relevance. You must give people the “why” of your message before giving them the “therefore” and the “so that.” Some people call this framing, but Luntz prefers the word context.

Sadly, many activists don’t use these “rules.” In fact, they often speak in an abstract, noninspirational, long, academic way. We all do it sometimes, but we’ll never get better unless we realize our mistakes.


Consider how effective this video is. It’s simple, straightforward, honest. It gets the message across: Animals have feelings and interests and they deserve rights and respect.

Here are a few things I do in vegan blogs that seem to help “sell” veganism:

  1. Visualize: I use images and videos often. If there is one single thing every vegan blogger could improve upon, it’s the use of videos. We MUST use videos as much as possible, because they are extremely compelling.
  2. Consistency: I link back to older blog posts and repeat the same message in a new post.
  3. Credibility: I stay honest. If I make a mistake and someone calls me on it, I admit the mistake and then fix it.
  4. Simplicity: I try to imagine a child or teenager reader. If I think it would make sense to them, then I’ve done a good job.
  5. Brevity: There is a place for long blog posts, but I try to say the important stuff up front so if someone’s attention span is short, they still get the gist.
  6. Novelty: I scan the news for vegan and vegetarian tidbits. This keeps things fresh.

(Crossposted at Selling Compassion)

6 Responses to ‘Selling’ Veganism

  1. Simplicity and brevity — those are good ones. I often find it difficult to present somewhat difficult concepts (e.g., speciesism) in a manageable fashion because the inevitable retorts necessitate somewhat more difficult concepts (e.g., “Is/Ought” fallacy). I have found that “speaking aspirationally” does go to limit the negative effects of my long-windedness and philosophizing. Important post.

    ~ Recent blog post: That Vegan Girl ~

  2. Very good points all. Words of wisdom.

  3. Quote from above body of ‘Selling’ Veganism text :

    “Sadly, many activists don’t use these “rules.” In fact, they often speak in an abstract, noninspirational, long, academic way. We all do it sometimes, but we’ll never get better unless we realize our mistakes”.

    I’d like to add another rule, *Flashpoint terms* e.g. the term *Murder* used in the context of describing the slaughter of animals.

    Some use the term Murder and hope whomever is listening gets that cow murder is the same as human murder, the problem I see here is too many people get hung up on the term Murder and the *Real* message is given 2nd place while Murder is hashed out yet again.

    I prefer a different approach in that disarming the person I’m speaking with, with the use of slaughtered instead of Murder I get past the flashpoint term of Murder and drive home my point with sound thought provoking reasoning.

    Culling is a diluted/euphemistic term often used to describe (I’ll call it murdering) The murder by clubbing to death of seal pups, Field dressing a murdered deer is a term used to describe the gutting/evisceration of a deer, hunting is again a euphemism describing the murder of a variety of mostly defenseless animals, while I do agree euphemisims can dilute and normalize and desensitize and even mask the truth about murder, the common use of a term can transition a conversation from *Putting up a wall* against your/our underlying message, to giving an ear to the truth behind the walls of a slaughterhouse.

    I think the “language of liberation” should be articulated and framed in terms that don’t depend on “offending” people who might otherwise listen, abortion is murder, at the same time it’s abortion, Sarah a pregnant mother at risk of dying during childbirth because of last minute complications is asked if she’d prefer to live or would she prefer to murder her child to save herself, it just in’t helpful.

    Coining the term murder to include nonhumans after penetrating the cultural mindset of omni’s can serve to restore “moral agency” back to the nonhuman in the thinking of the omni.

  4. I guess I think it depends. Those rules are no doubt appropriate for general marketing – a vegan TV commercial, say – but if you are talking to a specific group or a single person, a dry, academic approach (with big words!) might be more effective. You’re “speaking their language,” as they say.

    Simple *arguments*, however, are always going to be more powerful than complex ones (as long as they’re sound of course, heh). I love invoking the infant/animal hypocrisy, for instance, because the inconsistency is so stark. As you say, using images and videos also works in that same simple-yet-powerful way.

  5. I would like to find out how I can share or embed your Rate of Slaughter of Chickens, Pigs, and Cows in the United States visual on my Facebook page. Any ideas?

  6. HI Christopher,
    The rate of slaughter visual was created by Mark Middleton. His website is http://www.animalvisuals.org/ and it’s AWESOME!

    Go here:
    http://www.animalvisuals.org/data/slaughter/?y=2008
    The embed code is on the right.

    You may also want to check out the Virtual Battery Cage Tour:
    http://www.animalvisuals.org/empathy/virtualbatterycage/
    You can embed that, too.

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