Effective Written Animal Advocacy

Mark Hawthorne suggests letter-writing as one means of 'selling compassion.' Here is his advice:
"Tips for Effective Animal-Rights Letters to Editors"

"Tell readers something they might not know – such as that most hens are confined in battery cages or how dairy cows are treated to produce milk – and suggest ways readers can make a difference (stop buying eggs and dairy products)."
I'm continually surprised by how little people seem to know about animal issues. For example, many people don't even realize that cows must be impregnated in order to produce milk.

L.O.V.E. has done an excellent job explaining this fact in their page on "Why Vegan":

"As with humans, dairy cows produce milk for their children and therefore only produce milk after giving birth. Impregnation is commonly done by shoving a hand into the cow’s anus to guide an insemination gun that is pushed into the cow’s vagina. This process is repeated every year so she will continue to produce milk. Her baby is taken away from her shortly after birth, destined either to become veal or another dairy cow. After 4 to 6 years of being used by us as a milk machine, her milk production declines and, being no longer of any economic value for us, she is sent to slaughter. Her flesh often ends up in fast food hamburgers. All dairy products, including organic and grass-fed, come from cows destined for the slaughterhouse."
says L.O.V.E.
, which stands for Living Opposed to Violence and Exploitation.

Hawthorne continues:
"Include information about the issue(s); do not assume that readers already know. For example, rather than writing 'Foie gras production is bad,' be specific: 'In order to create ‘fatty livers,’ foie gras producers subject ducks and geese to an invasive feeding technique that forces into their stomachs up to thirty percent of their body weight every day. That’s like a two-hundred-pound man being forced to swallow sixty pounds of food a day.'"

More tips from Hawthorne:

"Watch your language. Instead of referring to an animal with an inanimate pronoun ('that' or 'it'), use 'who,' 'she' or 'he.' Also, use 'animal advocates' rather than 'animal-rights groups,' 'farmed animals' rather than the friendly 'farm animals' and 'painkiller' rather than 'anesthesia.'"
Here are some podcasts on this subject:
"Use positive suggestions to help readers make a difference. For example, rather than simply writing “Boycott the circus,” you can suggest events that don’t use animals, such as Cirque du Soleil, or direct them to Web sites like circuses.com."

I whole-heartedly agree. Once people realize the horrific realities of animal exploitation, they see that the problem is enormous and they often feel powerless. They need suggestions for concrete action. This is an area where Mark Hawthorne has truly excelled. He's written a book purely on the topic of animal advocacy:

Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism

"Do not use overly dramatic language, which may turn some readers off. Let the facts speak for themselves."

I think it depends on the context. Dramatic language can incite controversy, which publishers seem to love because it tends to sell more, so they're sometimes more interested in publishing letters with dramatic language. The more controversial, the more attention you get. PETA proves that everyday.

" Use an affirmative voice. For example, rather than writing 'Vegans are not wimps,' write 'Vegans have a much healthier body-mass index than most meat-eaters, and they live years longer.'"

I think this is a good idea. Specific examples help, too. For example, you could cite Mac Danzig, a very non-wimpy vegan:

"Promote the friendly side of veganism/vegetarianism and animal advocacy, and refrain from insults, which will hurt your credibility and perpetuate a negative opinion of animal activists."

A good way to do this is to "sit" on the letter. Write a letter and then don't send it. Wait a day, reread, edit if necessary, and then send the letter.

Trust me, I've written a lot of things off-the-cuff and I've gotten myself into a lot of hot water. Sometimes the results are good, sometimes not. We're all human and we all make mistakes. And anger against animal exploitation and animal exploiters is often justified. But take it from me, cooling off before hitting the "send" button is usually a good idea.

"Like humans, animals have a wide range of emotions. Try to depict this in your letters and help people understand how similar animals are to us. For example, 'Like all animals, pigs feel pain and fear …'

Example: Everybody Hurts. Or this one:

Clearly, these tips can be used not just for newspaper opinion section letter-writing, but also for blogging, commenting on blogs, emails to friends and family, forum posts, and more."

Does Veganism Sell Itself?

This video is basically a historical perspective of Vegan Outreach's attempts to "sell compassion." Jack Norris, co-founder of Vegan Outreach, comes to the conclusion that "exposing factory farms and advocating ethical eating is perhaps the most readily accessible option for reducing animal suffering."

Speaking of exposing factory farms...

Thus, effective vegan education/ compassion sales can take place in these kinds of situations:
  • Leafletting: handing out VO booklets that expose factory farming in images, statistics, and quotations.
  • Blogging: posting videos, photos, statistics, etc. that expose factory farming.
  • Letter-writing: sending letters to friends, family, and newspapers that expose the realities of factory farming.
  • Mobile Videos: tabling with a TV and videos of Meet Your Meat or other videos of factory farming.

Commitment and Consistency

CopyBlogger describes the six principles for getting to yes. I'll tackle each one here at Selling Compassion with practical ideas for activism. This is the second of the series:

"Commitment and Consistency — We are driven to remain consistent in our attitudes, words, and actions. So, when we are led to make a commitment of some kind, to go on record or take a stand or make a decision, there is an urge to remain consistent with that original commitment later on. The key is to get the initial commitment, which can appear small, reasonable, and innocent. This commitment can not only lead to compliance via the principle of consistency, but also to further compliance for larger requests."

"Application: Ask for a little 'yes' first, then build on that."
For animal advocates, getting a yes can be easy. Here are some examples:
  • "You care about animals, right?"
  • "You wouldn't abuse your pet, would you?"
After that, one approach: imply hypocrisy if someone says they care about animals yet they aren't vegetarian or vegan.

This triggers their desire to be or to appear consistent. Either they'll agree and go veg or they'll find a loophole. Unfortunately, they'll usually find a loophole ("it's too expensive..." "I don't know how..." "but the Bible says..." "but animals eat animals..."). This is probably because going vegetarian or vegan is seen as a major life change. If were were selling magazine subscriptions it might be a little easier, but we're not, we're selling compassion.

A more effective strategy seems to be a series of small "yes"es that lead up to a larger "yes, I'll go vegan." This strategy takes time. It's not going to happen in one conversation. Animal advocates have to have patience and they have to be willing to put in the time. But I think we can do it. Here's how it might go:

Vegan: "You care about animals, right?"
Nonvegan: "Yes."
V: "Please consider eating one vegan meal. If everyone just ate one vegan meal, we'd save a ton of animals' lives. We're having a vegan food fair this weekend. Come on by and eat a vegan meal."
NV: "OK, sure."

V: "Thanks for coming. Now, would you please consider eating one vegan meal each week? It's a small sacrifice from you that means a whole lot to animals and to people who care about animals. Besides, it could help slow climate change. We have a recipe email newsletter. Can I sign you up?"
NV: "Yes"

V: "I hope you've enjoyed the recipes we've been emailing you. Thanks for committing to eating one vegan meal each week for the last few weeks. Now, would you please consider eating one vegan meal each day? Now you know some vegan recipes - and we'll keep sending you more - so it should be pretty easy for you by now. So what do you say, will you go vegan for one meal per day?"
NV: "OK, I will."

V: "Wow, you're 20-35% vegan now! Well done! Are you willing to up it to 50% or so? Will you make half of your meals vegan?"
NV: "Alright."

V: "You're almost vegan! Why not make things more complete and consistent? Are you ready to go vegan? You've got support here, remember, you've got me and an entire network of vegans backing you up. What do you say? Ready to go all the way?"
NV: "Yes, I'm want to live my values."

The Power of Reciprocation

CopyBlogger considers the book I mentioned in the post about Objectivity, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion Robert B. Cialdini. He describes the six principles for getting to yes. I'll tackle each one here at Selling Compassion with practical ideas for activism:

"Reciprocation — There is an overwhelming urge to repay debts, to do something in return when something is done for us. This deep-seated urge is so strong, noted paleontologist Richard Leaky has said that it is the very essence of what it means to be human. Sociologist Alvin Gouldner points out that no society on Earth escapes the reciprocity principle."

"Application: Give people something for free."

For animal advocates promoting veganism this means:
What will we get in return?

Well, at the very least, people are less likely to trash the gift. Even if they don't find it useful for themselves, they seem more willing to pass it along simply because they view it as a gift. Thus, even if they don't reduce their meat consumption or go vegan, they might inspire someone else to by passing along the gift.

I've noticed a significant percentage of people thank me when I leaflet with substantial booklets. Leafletting with small brochures or postcards doesn't illicit the same response, they're not thankful because people don't seem to treat the smaller brochures as gifts. Hopefully, this thankful attitude will translate into a positive reception of the information and a willingness to change one's diet. But regardless, the thankfulness certainly makes leafletting easier. It's so much more rewarding to do activism where people thank you than activism where people are angry or mean.

For us, this idea of reciprocation is more difficult than for the average sales-person because:
  • animal advocates ask people to "pay back" someone else (the animals) rather than pay us back,
  • usually we're asking people to refrain from doing something (eat animals, wear animals, test on animals) rather than asking them to do something, which is always more difficult. (Convincing someone to say "yes" to you is easier than getting them to say "no" to someone else.)
But ultimately, evoking this thankful attitude in others can be a good idea because it makes them more receptive to animal rights and welfare concepts. When they come from a place of gratitude they're not coming from a place of anger or defensiveness.

Ten Rules of Effective Language for Veganism

Mark Hawthorne describes some ways to sell compassion in "Framing the Animal Rights Message." I agree with most of these "Ten Rules":
Luntz provides readers with his Ten Rules of Effective Language:

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.

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.

Humans & Dogs: Not So Different


This is basically my dog training philosophy:
Make it easy for your dog to do the right thing.
Then praise and reward the right thing. Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat...
Ignore and/or prevent bad behaviors.

(It's not really mine, lots of people use it.)

So, for example, you need to train your dog not to urinate in the house, you give your dog LOTS of walks and/or outdoor time. When she goes outside, you praise her and give her a treat or toy. If she goes inside, you ignore her. Just clean it up really well and start over. (She needs INSTANT praise, by the way. You can't tell her 'good dog' for going potty outside when she pooped 20 minutes ago. She won't understand the praise is related to the behavior she did 20 minutes ago. She'll think the praise is related to something she did 1 minute ago.)

Repeat, repeat, repeat... This is where I think a lot of people screw up. As soon as their dog 'gets' it, they stop the rewards. They think dog training is about teaching the dog, not about creating habitual behavior. The point is to make a habit, not simply to communicate. So, when the dog understands, that's wonderful, but you still have to repeat, repeat, repeat, until it's second nature and the dog doesn't even think twice about it. Once it's a habit, doggy will do it without even expecting the treat. (However, NEVER stop the praise. Dogs can't get 'spoiled' by hearing "good dog" too much when they're being good.)

Anyway... I think these methods can be used on people, too. I think the key to creating a world with more compassion and justice is by making it easy for people to do the right thing. And then to reward them for doing the right thing.

For example, we don't just expect people not to litter, we make it easy for them not to litter by providing city trash cans. We don't just expect people to educate their children, we've made it easy by providing free public education for children. More examples: park-and-rides, carpool lanes, curbside recycling, anonymous child abuse reporting, low cost spay and neuter programs... the list goes on. Make it easy and people will do it.

The problem with getting people on board with many progressive, liberal, leftist ideas isn't ideology, it's ease.


For veganism, that means we should make it easy for people to choose veganism by:

  • Creating or expanding vegan social clubs (like NYC's Vegan Drinks, or our potlucks, etc.) so vegans don't feel isolated.
  • Creating or supporting vegan businesses that offer vegan alternatives to omni stuff, so people have a real choice.
  • Doing vegan outreach so people are better educated about what it really means to be vegan, so they have fewer excuses.
  • Making more cookbooks, cooking shows, food blogs that educate and entice people to go or stay vegan.
  • Being vocal vegans, so vegans are less on the fringe and more central in social discourse. We're easy to ignore if we're not heard, we're hard to ignore if we're loud and proud.

Got any more ideas of what we ought to be doing to make veganism easier for nonvegans?

(Crossposted at ElaineVigneault.com)

Best Selling Animal-Friendly Books

The Amazon sales ranking is an indication of how many copies a book has sold. Let's compare the rankings for some animal rights books. Perhaps from there we can draw a conclusion about what kinds of books are more appealing, and thus what kinds of animal rights arguments are most persuasive, or at least what kinds of animal rights arguments are most well known:

  1. Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World by Bob Torres & Jenna Torres
    #22,225 in All Books, #1 in Animal Rights
  2. Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America by Nathan J. Winograd
    #23,881 in All Books, #2 in Animal Rights
  3. Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood by Taras Grescoe
    #25,531 in Books, #3 in Animal Rights
  4. Animal Liberation by Peter Singer
    #27,212 in All Books, #4 in Animal Rights
  5. Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money by Erik Marcus
    #28,745 in All Books, #5 in Animal Rights
  6. Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human by Elizabeth Hess
    #32,209 in All Books, #6 in Animal Rights
  7. Best Friends: The True Story of the World's Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
    #36,253 in Books, #8 in Animal Rights
  8. Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals by Karen Dawn
    #41,392 in All Books, #9 in Animal Rights
  9. Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy by Matthew Scully
    #54,405 in All Books, #14 in Animal Rights
  10. Making A Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights by Bob Torres
    #117,099 in All Books, #33 in Animal Rights
  11. Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism by Mark Hawthorne
    #264,227 in All Books, #72 in Animal Rights
  12. The Case for Animal Rights by Tom Regan
    #290,776 in Books, #80 in Animal Rights

Some basic "genres" of thought from the list above:
  • Theory: Animal Liberation, Making a Killing, The Case for Animal Rights, Dominion
  • Practical: Striking at the Roots, Bottomfeeder, Vegan Freak
  • Stories: Best Friends, Nim Chimpsky

But take a look at this:

  1. Skinny Bitch by Kim Barnouin & Rory Freedman
    #131 in All Books, not listed in Animal Rights section
  2. The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World by John Robbins
    #15,316 in All Books, not listed in Animal Rights section

Even though these 'diet' books are in the food section, they have a clear animal rights and environmental perspective. And they SELL BETTER.

Regardless of what is most compelling for us personally, we ought to be aware of the other perspectives, particularly if they're more popular. This way we can tailor our discussions and activism for the audience.

PETA's Nudity

PETA receives a lot of criticism for their nude or nearly nude campaigns. They explain that they do nude campaigns because they are effective. Here's their rationale:
Our mission is to get the animal rights message to as many people as possible. Unfortunately, this is not always an easy task. Unlike our opposition, which is mostly composed of wealthy industries and corporations, PETA must rely on getting free "advertising" through media coverage. This can be especially difficult with our fur campaign, since newspapers are often reluctant to cover our activities for fear of losing furriers' advertising dollars. But, not surprisingly, colorful and "controversial" demonstrations and campaigns like activists stripping to "go naked instead of wearing fur" consistently grab headlines.

The "Naked" Campaign began several years ago when demonstrators - both male and female - marched behind a huge banner proclaiming that they would "rather go naked than wear fur." More "naked" demonstrations were held all over the world, the idea caught on, and we started receiving offers from celebrities, including Christy Turlington, Marcus Schenkenberg, Kim Basinger, Cindy Crawford, designer Todd Oldham, and Pamela Anderson to participate. Interestingly, we began receiving complaints about this campaign only after professional models and actors joined it, which we conclude to mean, among other things, that celebrity participation helps us reach more people.

The campaign has been hugely successful. It has been featured in nearly every major newspaper, including The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post. And major magazines and television shows such as Us, People, and Entertainment Tonight have been inspired by the campaign to do stories about the anti-fur movement.

History does not look back unkindly on Lady Godiva. It is our hope that people will come to see that our modern-day "Godivas" have motives that are just as honorable.

I've created a website that takes a closer look at these nude campaigns: http://nakedpeta.blogspot.com/

Is Objectivity Overrated?

Matt Ball claims:
"There is a natural tendency for uncritical acceptance of claims we want to believe. In the long run, however, I believe that this causes more harm than good, because we lose support from people who have come to realize that we are not objective, and we miss chances to convince people who are inherently skeptical. Furthermore, most people are looking for some reason to dismiss us. Thus, it is imperative that we present information the public won’t regard as ludicrous and from sources that they won’t dismiss as partisan."
Is he right? Do studies support this?

There is a natural tendency for uncritical acceptance of claims we want to believe, yes, that seems to be true. But does that mean vegans should be more critical of our own beliefs or does it mean we should tailor our outreach and activism to suit the beliefs of the average person? Which is more effective in the long run?

It seems, in part, that he may be wrong. The staggering sales of Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, a book that no one would call "objective," seems to disprove Ball's hypothesis. If "most people are looking for some reason to dismiss" vegans and animal righters, why would they continue to buy and read a book about veganism?

Moreover, life experience has shown me that strong logic and truth are not very persuasive to the average person. In fact, very few people are what I would call "inherently skeptical."

The book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion Robert B. Cialdini, suggests that people are more motivated by six principles of ethical persuasion: reciprocity, scarcity, liking, authority, social proof, and commitment/consistency. For the record, "social proof" is akin to the logical fallacy "appeal to popularity." According to Cialdini, we may be more effective animal advocates if we appeal to authority and popularity than if we appeal to truth and logic.

One has to wonder, is Ball right or wrong? Does it matter if we're more concerned with what's most effective?

I certainly agree with him from an ethical perspective. To me, it's immoral to promote information you know is false. Accurate information is always better. But from an efficacy perspective? I'm not so sure. I'd like to find or do marketing research to find out.

But go ahead and read Ball's piece. He makes some really great arguments >>

Is Graphic Content Effective?

Rachel Becker's PWR 2 final animal advocacy photos:

Essentially, she seems to find that graphic content promotes more empathy and triggers the viewer's desire to contribute towards change. Thus, we shouldn't shy away from using disturbing images when promoting animal rights or veganism.

But, in my opinion, we should always offer a recourse. We shouldn't simply show the factory farm videos and let the viewers draw their own conclusion because the path to apathy is short. We ought to give concrete solutions, like: Go vegan for the animals, for your health, and for the planet.

Case Study: Feministe Blog & Crush Video Discussion

My mother-in-law sent me a link about crush videos, small animal snuff films fetishized for sexual pleasure. I forwarded the link to Jill at Feministe, hoping the legal issues and pornography aspect would pique her interests (she's a feminist lawyer, after all). Sure enough, she posted about it.

I refrained from commenting much, given that my reputation (amongst meat-eaters) is in the toilet and people (who like to eat dead animals) tend to disregard what I have to say. So I left only one comment. Luckily, others picked up the slack and made the connections. For example:

preying mantis wrote: "On top of that, the few cases where the producers have been found, investigated, and reported on involved the women in the videos having been coerced into it, so you have that on top of the animal cruelty."

Alderson Warm-Fork says, " if your issue is the slow crushing of small animals - when egg-laying hens reproduce, half their young are male. these males are ‘useless’ for profit. thus, less than a day old, they are disposed of, often by ‘crushing’. "

Jessica says, "Where consent cannot be obtained, a fetish should not be indulged. Simple as that. An animal cannot consent to this and to do it anyway is a kind of rape/murder. These are snuff films, no doubt about it."

puerdixit hit the nail on the head with THE BEST (in my opinion) analysis of all:

"I’m certainly against humans harming other beings for pleasure–sexual, gustatory, aesthetic or other. However, as a queer person, I’m unnerved by sex panics. I personally don’t see crush porn as ethically far from leather fetish (as much as I appreciate leatherqueers as part of my culture) or, heck, even the whole 'fuck-me boots' thing when those boots are made of dead animals. So I’m intrigued by how people think and talk about crush fetish, and what these responses say about larger attitudes towards non-humans, sexuality, and gender."

My conclusions:

  • People are often shocked and angered by cruel uses of animals that do not result in their own personal pleasure. The more someone can 'other' the animal abuser, the easier it is for them to condemn the cruelty. But unfortunately, the more 'different' the cruelty, the easier it is for them to overlook their own complicity in similar forms of animal cruelty.
  • Opening up a discussion of animal cruelty, in circles of people concerned about justice, will often result in at least some discussion about the cruelty inherent in factory farming. For that reason alone, it's worthwhile to attempt to ignite these kinds of discussions in these kinds of groups.
  • In discussions of pornography, the notion of consent is virtually always present. It's crucial in feminist theory and also crucial in animal rights theory. Animals can not and do not consent to much of what humans do to them. Thus, when the door is opened to discussions of animals, consent becomes a topic. Animal righters ought to learn how to talk about consent to people who don't want to consider animal's interests.
  • Animal cruelty associated with sex (crushing) or violence (dog-fighting, bull-fighting) seems to be more interesting to media producers (of all kinds, bloggers included) than the more routine forms of animal cruelty, like factory farming. Because of this, these kinds of animal cruelty discussions can be gateways to discussions of other forms of animal cruelty. But those discussions must be shaped carefully by animal advocates, otherwise, they will devolve into hatred of the 'othered'.

(crossposted at ElaineVigneault.com)