Policitian's Attempt To Censor Veganuary Ads Showed Fear Of Vegan Growth

Shropshire Deputy Council Leader - and former dairy farmer - Steve Charmley said Veganuary posters were promoting 'fake news'. But what does this say about advertising in general?
Veganuary advert
Veganuary adverts on buses prompted the politician's outburst (Photo: Veganuary)

"People are taking the p*ss out of you every day," Banksy famously wrote back in 2004, turning his creative ire on the advertising industry. "They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you're not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else."

Shropshire Deputy Council Leader Steve Charmley knows exactly how Banksy feels after seeing adverts for Veganuary pass by on the backs of local Arriva buses last week. (Don't worry Steve, you can join in the fun too!)

Charmley was so angry he tweeted for censorship (since deleted; Charmley has now protected his account) saying: "It's a disgrace to run this advert in Shropshire. [Arriva] are being used to promote the fake news of [sic] vegangalists! If it was a political poster it wouldn't be allowed."

Charmley was doubly wrong: advertising is not news, fake or otherwise; and shouldn't a politician know that political posters are not regulated by the Advertising Standards Agency, nor the Electoral Commission, so couldn't be removed?

Censorship

But what struck most people as worrying in Charmley's outburst was the idea that an advert to change one's dietary lifestyle should be suppressed.

What Charmley was really complaining about, of course, was that - as a former dairy farmer, with a son who is a farmer - these adverts for Veganuary were an affront to his way of life, and his preferred dietary lifestyle. But not just for himself - for the rest of his county, too.

Charmley's claims rested on arguing it was wrong to allow vegan advertising in 'a great County built on Agriculture [sic]'. Indeed, Shropshire is a rural and agricultural heartland. More than 21 percent of businesses in the country are in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector (the average for England is 4.3 percent) although on Charmley's council website, the council mentions only 'health, education, retail and manufacturing' sectors as key.

And while dairy is the largest contributor to agriculture's output in the West Midlands (around £296 million of a total of £2 billion), fruit, oats and wheat are a large part of the output (Steve: they're plants!). And agriculture in the West Midlands contributes only 0.60 percent to the regional economy and employs 1.61 percent of the regional workforce. This would be higher for Shropshire, but it would still be hard to see how Charmley's claim that the county is 'built on agriculture' holds up. It could even be considered fake news…

Fear and Loathing

Charmley's attack on freedom of expression was motivated by what many of we vegans have come to expect from carnivores: fear and loathing of the vegan message and way of life.

Fear, because as is clear from all these examples of veganism's growing impact, the more widespread and mainstream veganism becomes, the less easy it remains for those who exploit animals to remain ignorant of their actions.

Loathing, because no one likes to think they're being told to change their ways, even if those ways are brutal, exploitative and outdated.

The Carnist Worldview

But what Charmley's outburst also reveals - again - is the ignorance of those living within the carnist worldview that theirs is just that: one worldview, albeit the dominant one. For dairy farmers like the Charmleys and the meat-eating, cow's-milk-drinking majority, their lifestyles are "natural, normal, and necessary" - and have always been that way.

But as Dr. Melanie Joy writes in her now famous book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, 'when an ideology is entrenched, it is essentially invisible'. So it is with the ideology of Carnism. Whether you like this word, or prefer carnophallogocentrism, what is clear is that to give the dominant ideology a name reveals it for what it is: a system of beliefs that strives to maintain its coherency and dominance over other, different (e.g. vegan) beliefs.

Meaty Advertising

Which brings us back to advertising. Banksy is right, of course, that advertising is one of the core pillars of consumerism that supports the destructive status quo of capitalist and carnist ideologies. Advertisers spent over £22 billion in the UK in 2017 (the latest year for complete figures) with the Top five advertisers being Sky, P&G (and their food brands), BT, Unilever (and all their food brands - Vegetarian Butcher ads, anyone?), and McDonald's.

Of course, Charmley has never had a thing to say about the fact that McDonald's is the UK's top sole food and drink advertiser, splashing out £86 million in 2017. (Mind you, its recent advertising push behind the new vegetarian happy meal hardly registered with all of the PR success for Greggs' vegan sausage roll.)

And we've yet to hear Charmley comment on the impact of junk food adverts - based mainly on meat products, with their fair share of dairy thrown in - targeted at vulnerable children via social media. This in the context of the Government's recent 'vague' report on tackling Childhood Obesity.

An unhealthy industry?

In fact, in the UK fast food companies spend 30 times more than the Government spends on promoting healthy eating. As the Obesity Health Alliance recently reported:

There is wealth of strong, peer-reviewed evidence proving that the food adverts children see, influence the foods they choose and how much of it they eat. Junk food marketing in particular is linked with strong preference for junk food, more snacking, and greater intake of junk food and lower intake of healthy food overall.

As someone who used to work in advertising, I know that advertising is effective. (Otherwise why would the McDonald's spokesperson say, in justifying that £86 million spend, 'we're confident from our advertising tracker data that our marketing works'.) When I was planning campaigns for Cussons Imperial Leather or Fuller's London Pride, we saw, from independent audits, that the adverts we placed - on TV, radio, and yes on buses - really did change the purchasing habits of consumers. And when other brands advertised, they changed back.

Advertising is powerful. We are intensely visual creatures, and respond easily to imagery and ideas that we believe with provide us with pleasure, satisfaction, and social group bonding. Advertising is powerful, as Charmley knows. That's why he was so threatened by the Veganuary bus ads - if they are impotent to attract the attention of all those Shropshire farmers, why try to censor them?

Wilful blindness

For Charmley and the rest of the meat-eating population to remain ignorant of the powers of carnist advertisers to shape our social norms - with so much money, airtime, scientific and psychological knowledge at their disposal - is wilful blindness.

To believe the massive expenditure on advertising that pushes the exploitation of animals has no impact on our socialization of meat-eating as 'natural, normal, and necessary' beggars belief. It is just not credible to be so threatened by Veganuary's ads, and then suggest those of McDonald's have no impact on what society sees as 'normal, natural, necessary'.

Are all ads propaganda?

If Veganuary ads are propaganda, then so are McDonald's ads. And KFC's, and Pizza Hut's, and Burger King's, and all the rest (in the United States, 98 percent of food commercials feature adverts for unhealthy foods, and 84 percent of food and beverage ads seen by children, ages 2-11, were high in fats, trans fats, sugar, and sodium).

But of course, if a vegan were to complain about a McDonald's ad for a Big Mac, they would - and have - been labeled 'vegangalists'!

So in a way, I agree with Charmley, who agrees with Banksy. I suggest, as an experiment, let's ban ALL advertising, including all food adverts. (The alternative: place proper health warnings on meat and dairy products. If a product such as bacon has been shown to kill people, let's put that on the label too.) When all advertising is banned, I'd be interested to see how what comes to be seen as 'natural, normal, and necessary' in dietary choices just might become a little more vegan-friendly...

And if you don't support this, Steve, then get your hands off the Veganuary ads. Even in Shropshire.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are prepared in the author's capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Plant Based News itself. 

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PBN Contributor:

Dr. Alex Lockwood is the author of 'The Pig in Thin Air' (Lantern Books, NY), a vegan memoir and study of new animal advocacies, as well as an academic and activist. He is a Fellow of the RSA and a member of the Vegan Society Research Advisory Committee, and has recently conducted interviews with 40 vegan men exploring their journeys into plant-based lifestyles. You can follow him on Twitter @alexlockwood

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