During the fashion weeks in New York and London, PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals) performed its usual and predictable PR stunt: jumping on runways to protest the use of real fur in fashion and PR. The fashion shows went on smoothly – generating free media exposure for unknown designers such as Julien Macdonald.
Interesting enough, PETA’s PR has two sides: a positive and a dark one.
PETA has been able to create brilliant campaigns such as the “think ink, not mink” ad with Dennis Rodman and also snagging many a celebrity to publicly promote PETA’s cause. It made PETA a household name worldwide.
On the dark side, PETA's "Holocaust on Your Plate" campaign asserts that the eating of meat is the equivalent of the torture and slaughter of Jews by the Nazis. PETA juxtaposes photographs of emaciated concentration camp inmates in their tight-packed wooden bunks with chickens being kept in cages. In a despicable comparison, a photo of piled bodies of Holocaust victims is juxtaposed with one showing bodies of dead pigs. Considering the Jewish dietary laws, this can only be seen as a PR gaffe of the first order.
Moreover, PETA is also not against promoting violence: it provided funds to convicted animal rights terrorists, including $42,000 to Rodney Coronado (he was convicted of setting fire to a research lab at Michigan State). PETA also admits paying $1,500 to the Environmental Liberation Front, which (according to the FBI) is one of the nation's largest terrorist groups.
Who is the PR guru behind PETA? PETA's director of vegan outreach Mr. Bruce Friedrich, who readily admits that he has no PR background whatsoever. In a recent interview, he stated the following.
“Although I didn't have any formal training in PR and hadn't been doing animal advocacy professionally, I still had honed what I considered to be the strongest argument," he says.
"I also do have a background in advocacy, and I had been on my own advocating vegetarianism and veganism, and speaking in churches for almost 10 years.”
Friedrich and PETA share a strong belief that that their position is right, and will ultimately prevail.
Friedrich’s beliefs are based in religion. A devout Catholic, he says he believes that cruelty to animals is against his faith and justifies violence.
“I think it would be a great thing if, you know, all of these fast-food outlets and these slaughterhouses and these laboratories and the banks that fund them exploded tomorrow. I think it's perfectly appropriate for people to take bricks and toss them through the windows, and you know, everything else along the line. Hallelujah to the people who are willing to do it.”
PETA’s zigzag PR strategy took an interesting turn on 9/16.
PETA supporter Heather Mills-McCartney paid a visit to the headquarters of Jennifer Lopez’ Sweetface fashion label to protest against the use of fur in some of its designs. Heather left wincing in pain after her prosthetic leg became detached during a clash with security guards at Jennifer Lopez’ New York office.
Representatives from PETA strangely enough went out of their way to stress that Heather visited the premises of her own volition.
“Heather Mills-McCartney took it upon herself to go to the Sweetface offices yesterday,” confirmed a spokesman. “J Lo said in a recent interview, 'If somebody wants to educate me about fur they can do'. Heather wanted to be the person to do that.” One would expect PETA to be sympathetic toward a faithful champion that got injured in the line of protest.
From a PR standpoint, if PETA doesn’t clean up its act soon, they will never achieve what they aspire to: influencing the public opinion to become vegetarians.
What should they do? First and foremost, PETA should hire a PR professional with an impartial view of PETA’s mission. The next step is rebranding PETA as a caring and non-violent organization, followed by building and implementing a consistent PR strategy.
PETA knows how to create headlines, but sadly missed out on a golden PR opportunity – rescuing the pets in New Orleans.