Currently, GEICO insurance is running an ad with antelope who watch a lion through night vision goggles. The antelope taunt the lion because they can see him approaching, saying "Have you thought about going vegan, Carl?" Then a couple of guys break in and say that people who save money with GEICO are happier than a couple of antelope with night vision goggles.
This time of year, readers may see one of the ads for my cookbook "Vegan Vegetarian Cooking" (shown to the right) featuring a buck urging viewers to go vegan, and think that I took the idea from that GEICO ad. Actually, it's the other way around.
My ads (there were actually two of them, with a slight variation) were made and rolled out during November of 2011 -- deer hunting season. They featured a buck photographed in Yorktown, Virginia in 2010. And because the web sites featuring my ad were so popular, it's possible that more than 100,000 people saw that ad last year, before it was replaced in February by ads encouraging people to buy the book for their Valentine sweethearts.
I suspect that someone from a marketing firm GEICO uses saw that ad last year and decided to use the idea in television ads for one of their clients. They probably thought that whatever article they found had low traffic, and so nobody would notice -- but some of those articles have thousands of viewers per month. Add them all together, and traffic to my sites was between 40,000 and 50,000 visitors per month for November, December, and January. The combined total for the 3-month period when the ads ran was about 140,000 unique viewers.
Does GEICO's use of the idea bother me? Actually, no. They have a huge advertising budget and a large TV audience. I'm glad that they're reminding people of the vegan dietary choice, even though their ad mocks veganism. How many times has the word "vegan" appeared on TV lately? The only mention I've seen within the past month was by GEICO.
At first, that seems logical. Insurance companies would save money by encouraging people to be healthier. Yet I've also read articles that say insurance companies are afraid to challenge the status quo in health and health care because some of their investments are in the pharmaceutical industry. Getting people to be too healthy may hurt their financial interests. Perhaps that's why GEICO mocks going vegan in their ads.
In contrast, I want my readers to be healthy. I've been a vegetarian or vegan for decades, and have put a lot of effort into sharing great vegetarian recipes and helping others to enjoy the healthier dietary choice.
The history of cookbook ads for 'Vegan Vegetarian Cooking'
The history of online ads for my cookbook is that about ten years ago, in 2003 or 2004, the owner of Windsong Spirit in Grafton, Wisconsin encouraged me to advertise my cookbook on my web sites. I had written several popular articles on alternative health and other topics, some reaching thousands of viewers per month. At first I resisted the idea of advertisements -- I made my living from programming databases, and didn't want to detract from the content of the articles.
The shopkeeper also happened to be a real estate agent, and so she was good at sales. She asked me how many web sites I'd visited lately that didn't have ads. Of course I couldn't think of many, other than my own. She sold me on the idea. To this day I'm grateful for her good advice.
As a thank-you, I placed ads for her shop on some of my articles until the shopping plaza with her store closed. I've lost touch with her since.
To start and to this day, I design my own ads for "Vegan Vegetarian Cooking." The first online ads featured pictures of food. Some showed prepared dishes from the cookbook like Tomato-Brazil Nut Soup and Garlic Mushrooms in Cabernet. Others showed raw ingredients like pears and apples in their trees. All of the ads were pretty, and they may have helped slightly with book sales, although not enough to boost my overall income much. I still made my money from a day job.
Then the bad economy struck in 2008, and by 2009 jobs were short and spotty. I had more time to tinker with advertisements, and tried rotating holiday ads into the mix.
As hunting season approached in November of 2011, I'd try the animal rights angle for the first time. I originally opted for vegetarianism in 1984 due to animal rights concerns, and many other vegetarians and vegans share the same mindset.
I selected a picture of a buck from the previous year, taken in the battlefields of Yorktown, Virginia. He was a big buck, the kind hunters would love to shoot, looking straight into the camera. I added the header "...Could I interest you in Going VEGAN?" I thought it was humorous yet tragic at the same time, with shock value -- something to elicit emotions. Most folks know deep down that being vegetarian is better for their health and kinder to animals, yet their culture has taught most of them to eat meat and occasionally hunt animals.
Later I added other holiday ads -- one showed a window with electric candles, another had my cookbook coming out of a green holiday gift bag. I also decided to rotate most of the ads featuring food out, as they didn't seem to sell the book very well.
In February, for Valentines Day, I replaced the holiday ads with one featuring a red rose. Around St. Patrick's Day, I switched to a very simple "Think Green" ad -- a phrase overused in other ads, especially among recycled products. It implied the environmental benefits of vegetarianism. The simple "think green" ad seemed to increase traffic to VeggieCooking.com, and so I left it on my sites for most of the year, at least until earlier this month when I added my first "Save a Turkey!" Thanksgiving ad. And now that hunting season has started, the ad with the buck is back.
Of course, I'm not sure that my ad was the first with a prey animal urging people to go vegan. I certainly wasn't the first -- or last -- person to use the phrase "think green" in an advertisement.
Either way, I'm accustomed to being the "golden goose" rarely compensated for my creativity. The nice thing about golden geese is that we have new ideas all the time. Lately I've been working on a couple of great restaurant ideas -- and if someone takes the ideas without compensating me yet again, I'll just roll the new food products into another cookbook. Golden geese just keep on going.
UPDATE: Today I saw an ad for Honey Nut Cheerios with a similar theme -- their bee mascot stumbled into an apparent entomologist's home and was horrified by dead insects mounted on the wall there.
It seems that suddenly companies want to portray their animal mascots as victims for the shock value. It also feels like another knock-off of my original buck/vegan ad. I wouldn't be surprised if the idea came from the same firm, or at least from a firm with an employee who'd also seen one of my pages with the buck ad.
It doesn't feel ethical for wealthy corporations to take advertising ideas from authors and web designers without compensating them, especially when those corporations benefit financially from those ideas.
Also, readers may notice that many of my more popular pages now have Amazon.com ads in addition to the VeggieCooking.com cookbook ads. I started adding those late last year because of the slow economy. I needed my web sites to handle more of their own expenses -- and if people wouldn't buy my product often enough for that to happen, then perhaps they'd appreciate the larger selection offered by Amazon. Prior to the Amazon ads, my web sites were always a loss, basically seen by me as my charitable work. Thanks to Amazon, 2012 may be the first year that my web sites earn all or most of their own expenses -- other than my time at no charge, of course.