Written by Heather Clemenceau
On July 23rd, the hue and cry for a group of anti horse-slaughter supporters, after months of planning, was “Wagons Ho” to Calgary, Alberta. The decision to place a billboard during the 100th Anniversary of the Stampede was ballsy. In 2011, Canada slaughtered 89,348 horses and exported nearly 13,500 tonnes of horse meat to Belgium, France, Switzerland and other countries, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Alberta is the horse slaughter capital of Canada, being home to the Bouvry slaughterhouse and Bouvry Exports which serves both an export and smaller domestic market, mainly in Quebec.
We`ve rented a new anti-slaughter billboard and it sure as hell doesn’t say, “Welcome to British Columbia!”
Canadian billboard sponsor Charlotte Uhrich has, with the help of many supporters in both the US and Canada, arranged for her third billboard. This time the host city is Port Coquitlam (PoCo), British Columbia. With about 60,000 residents; it lies east of Vancouver, where most urban horsemeat sellers in British Columbia are located. Those sellers I’ve identified on the map will not comprise an exhaustive list – there are several Dutch eateries in BC, and the Dutch do eat and serve smoked horsemeat. Horsemeat is also likely available at some Italian delicatessens as well.
The last billboard, in Calgary during the Stampede, created tons of attention. Even though some of it was resoundingly negative, and even quite unfair to Bill C-322 Sponsor MP Alex Atamanenko, it offered us the opportunity to rebut statements and provide a factual accounting of the reality of horse slaughter, via the comments section of numerous blogs and news articles. There is actually a close link between offence and effectiveness. At the conclusion of media interviews, several of the attendees at the Calgary Billboard kick-off had the opportunity to add another layer of information to the public. Our billboard message points were also complemented by the protest against the Calgary Stampede held in July.
The billboards serve the purpose of highlighting the issue for those members of the public who don’t read about slaughter on horse-related bulletin boards or participate in Facebook pages geared towards slaughter. In attempting to reach both horse owners and the general public, we find that a major problem is creating awareness that horses are even slaughtered in this country. Many horse owners have no clue that former pets are used in the food chain, because they know of no other way to end a horse’s life other than humane euthanasia.
Creating awareness of slaughter is the first step towards fixing a problem that people are not aware of. Jo Deibel, Angel Acres Horse Haven Rescue, Executive Director explains:
“The project makes people aware of the problem of horse slaughter. The billboard slogan matches the educational, non-graphic, companion website’s url. New people are finding us each day by viewing the billboard and going directly to the site or by searching the billboards phrase “Stop Slaughtering Us.” It’s not a “SuperPac” at work here. If anything, it’s a MiniPac. And, you have to admit, they’re having an impact.”
While it can be challenging to measure a billboard’s effectiveness, advertising gurus will tell you that billboards are all about building brands and
strengthening relationships. Billboards are all about recall. Brand recall is the holy grail of advertising. Our “brand” is the “Stop Slaughtering Us” slogan. People look at a billboard for only a few seconds, but people in transit are a “captive” audience. The new billboard is located in a high traffic thoroughfare where daily commuters will be bombarded with the slaughter message.
Of course, one of the main problems with establishing and measuring marketing outreach is that we have no direct competitors upon whom we can model an advertising campaign! We don’t know for certain what new “clients” we may be acquiring, and therefore cannot determine what the cost has been to acquire them. One of the best ways to measure effectiveness is through the call to action, which in our case, would be the number of visitors to the StopSlaughteringUs Canadian website and comments left there. In the first year of the billboard campaign, hits to the Angel Acres US website, www.stopslaughteringus.com, increased to 14,000 per week from about 80, Deibel has said. Clearly, the message is reaching people who are intrigued to obtain more information by visiting the website.
The story, in the end, is never about the billboard – there is no big organization at work behind them. The big bucks that are paid to rent the billboards are made up of many little bucks that are graciously provided by people with huge hearts. We want to bring billboards across Canada! Through the magic of Photoshop, we can!