We talk to Go Vegan Scotland’s Susan and Barbara Bolton about their innovative billboard campaign that aims to spread the vegan message
In March’s  edition of Vegan Life we published a news story about Tracy Cassidy from Manchester who hired a billboard space in her city to display a huge poster about veganism. The project, which was crowdfunded, had a big impact on the people who saw it. It also had a huge impact on our readers as many wrote in wanting to find out more about how they could get involved. We decided to speak to the inspirational women who started it all.
Susan and Barbara Bolton are sisters who live in Glasgow and Edinburgh respectively. They have both been vegan for several years and take a proactive stance towards saving animals. “We believe the best thing anyone can do for animals is go vegan,” says Barbara. “In fact, we believe if you care about animals at all, the least you can do is be vegan. Once you are, then you can build on that, educate others and help to encourage people to do it too. That’s what we focus our energy on.”
A billboard with a thought-provoking question is a great way to expose as many people as possible to the vegan message. Barbara says: “Susan came up an image with the line of animals, from left to right starting with the animals typically viewed as companions or pets, and then as you move to the right the animals more often viewed as resources, the species we typically eat. The question is posed to the viewer: ‘where do you draw the line? ’All animals want to live. It’s a simple design and with one clear message, which is what you need for a billboard that people may only see in passing. It’s designed to challenge speciesism, posing the question to the viewer to trigger a thought process.
“We got an illustrator to draw the image, so that it was good quality, and then we found a billboard company with billboard locations in Glasgow and Edinburgh, selected the locations with the most impact and got the prices. We were then able to show people the plan and begin crowd-funding to pay to get it up. We needed over £1000 for the two billboards for two weeks each.”
The women are members of a 2,000-strong Facebook group called Vegan Edinburgh and Glasgow [VEG]. They thought if they could get donations from members of that group, they’d be able to put the billboards up quickly. “It took a bit longer than we anticipated, as things do, and to boost our funds we sold vegan tablet [a Scottish sugar confection] at a local vegan fete and got help from the owner of the chain of plant-based restaurants, (Mono, Stereo, the Flying Duck and the 78 in Glasgow). He kindly organised a fundraising night where we had bands perform and we even had the vegan comedian Jake Yapp compere,” says Barbara.
Having raised the money, the pair erected two boards, one each in Glasgow (at a busy junction in Anniesland) and Edinburgh (outside a Tesco Superstore). “It was just incredible to finally see the image up where thousands of people would view it. It was quite emotional,” says Barbara. “We got some brilliant feedback once the billboards went up.
“People who’d contributed to the campaign sent us photos of them standing next to it, we heard about a group of school kids busting into cheers as their bus went past it, and someone in VEG told us how her mum was really affected by the image. It was great outreach to non-vegans and it was all also great for vegans to see that message up there. More donations rolled in and soon we had enough to put up our third one up at the beginning of this year in Glasgow. We’ve also encouraged other people to fundraise to get the image up in their towns.”
Barbara and Susan haven’t stopped there, expanding the scope of their operation, and changing their name from the Vegan Billboard to Go Vegan Scotland. Barbara says: “We are overtly, expressly, unabashedly promoting veganism. We believe that is the most effective way to encourage people to do what’s right. We don’t encourage people to take a step in the direction of veganism, we don’t encourage people to go vegetarian. We talk to people about it.”
At first they did this through leafleting, now they have a stall. “Flyering was a good experience,” says Barbara. “Some people reacted positively and it felt worthwhile, but we also realises that the best and most worthwhile interactions we had were with people who actually approached us to talk when they realised what we were doing there. They wanted to talk about it. They wanted to tell us: ‘I really admire you vegans, but’, and: ‘I know what happens to animals is not right, but…’ and we spoke for some time, they thanked us and said they would come and speak to us again another time.
“We realised that we could have more impact if we set ourselves up somewhere where people could approach us, ask us for information, and challenge us with their ‘buts’. We saw on Facebook that other groups were setting up vegan information stalls, in New Zealand, Spain, Ireland, and we decided to give it a go. With the Scottish weather, cover is essential and so we had a buy a gazebo and some other kit. We wanted a positive, pro-vegan approach, inviting people to approach us to find out more about veganism and get some free food samples to try.”
The work is not yet done with plans for the next advert currently underway. This time the sisters will look at dairy. Barbara says: “You have to be very focused in these ads, they can’t contain too much information or text so it will be a striking image with a simple but powerful message. It will direct people to the new web site which will have all the info on what veganism is, why people should go vegan, and how to go vegan, with a particular focus on Scottish-specific information.
“We’re looking at alternatives to billboards, pricing all the options first and then we’ll decide what to do next. We’re pricing bus shelters, the Glasgow subway, petrol pump adds and campus adds. Everything we do in terms of big campaigns is crowd funded so once we’ve got the image and the priced up plan we’ll be telling everyone about it and asking them to support it if they can.”
They are also trying to get some funds through GVS merchandise, which has the added value of getting the message out there, with GVS window stickers, tote bags and hoodies up for sale. Susan is making tablet to sell at the Glasgow monthly vegan fete.
If you’d like advice on how to run your own local billboard project, please contact Barbara and Susan on email@example.com. You can also visit their Go Vegan Scotland page on Facebook