Sunday, October 4, 2015

Why Do Vegans Love Non-Vegan Companies So Much?

For some years now, I have been outspoken in my criticism against LUSH Cosmetics, a non-vegan company that regularly engages misogynistic stunts to promote its products. Among other things, LUSH sexually objectifies female employees, blames women for speciesism (although the forms of speciesism LUSH concerns itself with are male-led industries), and uses women's bodies as stand-ins for graphic displays of speciesist violence, drawing on clear scripts of violence against women for the stunts to "make sense."

But, with every renewed complaint about the company, I can expect a number of LUSH devotees to come to the company's defense. This has always been rather curious to me, as LUSH isn't even a vegan company. Indeed, LUSH not only profits from the exploitation of women, but it also profits from the exploitation of other animals.

By way of an example, one anti-speciesism non-profit leader who was familiar with my work approached me seeking advice as to whether or not to solicit a grant from LUSH. They were unsure about the decision given LUSH's treatment of women. I suggested they try their luck with The Body Shop, a similar company that doesn't advertise with misogyny. I was told that their non-profit would never consider The Body Shop because it is owned by a company that engages vivisection. So, this non-profit was completely writing off The Body Shop, a non-misogynist, almost vegan company that does not test its own products on animals, in favor of LUSH, a clearly sexist company that is nowhere near vegan.

What's the disconnect here? Why are vegans so committed?

In a nutshell, companies invest quite a lot of time and expertise into facilitating consumer trust and brand loyalty. There's a neuroscience to it.

First, we can form actual, physical relationships with a brand. When researchers measured participant skin response to pictures of beloved brands in comparison to their response to images of good friends:
They found no significant differences in skin arousal. It is, of course, true that this is just a physiological response, which a number of things can elicit. But the researchers argue that, if we don't quite fall in love with brands, we are at least capable of falling in deep like with some of them. 
Relatedly, brands can also become tied to people's own identity:
The authors of one recent paper in the Journal of Consumer Research argue that people feel ashamed and insecure when a company betrayal is discovered, much like what would happen when trust is broken in an interpersonal relationship, precisely because of the fact that their self-concept has been tied up with their products. 

So it's no wonder that folks become so adamant about their Karma soap and LUSH bath bombs. There's a serious psychological relationship here.

Certainly, this research will also have implications for other vegan outreach. Strong consumer relationships with "meat" and dairy brands like Oscar Meyer, Jimmy Dean, Carnation, and Cadbury's will certainly complicate activist efforts.