Vegans, you have a major marketing problem.

I still clearly remember the day as a child, at an aunt’s farm, that I saw a chicken being beheaded. I was about 10 and I was so traumatised that I didn’t eat chicken for months. Until then, I’d never really made the connection between cute fluffy baby chickens and the roast chicken that was one of my mum’s signature dishes. Some of my fondest childhood memories are being in the kitchen with my older brothers and sisters on a Sunday evening, fighting over different parts of the roast chook as mum took it out of the oven. Today, the smell of roast chicken brings back the warm glow of those times.

But now that I’d witnessed the barbaric beheading I vowed to never eat meat again. And like many newly anointed junior animal activists, I spoke of animal cruelty and vegetarianism at every opportunity— I’m sure my teacher at the time was growing tired of my impromptu speeches and handmade posters imploring my classmates to pass on the meat. Luckily for her, my campaign only lasted a few months and on one Sunday a few months later, the smell of that roast chicken got the better of me and my vegetarian days were over.

Yesterday saw the largest animal activist protest in Australia’s history, with over 100 vegan activists shutting down Melbourne’s CBD, throwing traffic and public transport into chaos and preventing many commuters getting to work on time. Vegan protesters also stormed abattoirs and farms across the country, chaining themselves to fences and causing havoc for farmers already battling the disastrous effects of drought.

The reaction from the public was fast and furious. Social media blew up with memes and angry tirades from farmers, commuters and meat eaters that vowed to eat even more meat in response to the protest. The self-righteous vegan army with their serious message for Australia had become a laughing stock (pun intended).

As a marketer who has had experience in political polling, I know that to win the hearts and minds of the public (and ultimately an election), you need to appeal to the swinging voters and present policies and campaign messages that are important to them.

In many respects, I embody the ideal target market for vegan activists. While I’m not vegan, I am akin to a ‘swinging voter’ — I am aware of and understand the benefits of more people choosing a plant-based diet. I get the health benefits and and I am becoming more educated about the environmental impact of mainstream livestock farming. I often go for weeks without eating meat or dairy and I could possibly be convinced to skip meat permanently but I’m yet to be swayed, and in fact something about the self-rightous, extremist nature of the vegan movement actually makes me want to actively remain a meat eater. Grinding the CBD of Melbourne to a standstill with angry and patronising protests, vandalising innocent farmers properties and putting good people out of jobs is not the way to win the hearts and minds (and diets) of the masses and it certainly doesn’t do anything positive for the image of veganism. To join a cause, vote for something or be moved to action or change, people need to feel an affinity with the message and the people fronting that message. Yesterday all the protesters did was alienate people and piss them off. The protest, while raising awareness of the cause, was devoid of strategy or or clear objective. What was the call to action? If the hope was for people to invest their precious time to watch a movie after having their time wasted and their day inconvenienced then your campaign was a disaster.

Vegans, I get that you’re extremely passionate about your cause. But if you truly want more support (and presumably, more vegans) cut your extremism and start marketing your cause to the right people with the right message. Yesterday you did yourself no favours and today, I and millions of other Australians feel less attracted to veganism than ever.  

Pass the mustard please, my steak is ready.