Wednesday, October 29, 2008

PETA’s rebranding of fish – will its Sea Kitten marketing campaign work?

PETA is known for its often provocative and controversial campaigns, such as comparing factory farming to the Holocaust.
In its latest campaign, it tries to convince the public that fish are capable of showing physical affection, of feeling pain and of grieving when their companions die. They are in PETA’s opinion not different from pets such as dogs and cats.

Since fish are not furry and cuddly, PETA tries to change the public image of fish from slithery and slimy to cute. Similar to happy Disney characters, it launched a website featuring “Finding Nemo”- like Sea Kittens. Aimed at small children, the website allows its visitors to create and name their own Sea Kittens. There is also a section on the website with (rather scary) bedtime stories trying to get the PETA point across. One of the stories read: “Tony the Trout is the smartest Sea Kitten in his school. Already litter-trained at 2 months old, Tommy went on to double-major in neuroscience and environmental studies at Clamford University, eventually graduating with honors. When Tony is caught and fed to a precocious young child who, having eaten one mercury-filled sea kitten too many, falls to the bottom of his class, the irony is not lost on him.”

A spokeswoman of PETA explained, that "If everyone started calling fish 'Sea Kittens,' they'd be a lot less likely to violently kill them for food, painfully hook them for 'sport,' or cruelly confine them to aquariums. When your name can also be used as a verb that means driving a hook through your head, it’s time for a serious image makeover.”

PETA kicked off its marketing campaign at the beginning of October 2008 at a school in Fayetteville, NC. As a gimmick, a huge Sea Kitten welcomed the children, explaining that Sea Kittens are just like puppies and kittens and should not be eaten. As part of the marketing campaign, PETA launched a petition calling for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to abandon its backing for fishing (or Sea Kitten hunting in PETA’s language).

Will the campaign work? Doubtful…….

How I see it, the main “mistake” of the campaign is its target group. PETA wants to stop fishing, which per definition is an activity not conducted by totlers. The best what PETA will achieve is changing the eating habits of the little ones, which will disrupt a balanced diet. It is doubtful that school cafeterias serve fish as a whole, including heads and fins. It’s hard to make the connection between a fish finger and a real fish/Sea Kitten. Fish is also a main food source for many communities, and is a great source of omega-3 fatty-acid which helps reducing the risk of breast cancer.

Furthermore, no matter how you look at it, fish are just not cute! Even the biggest dog or lion has a high hugging factor: nice fur and two eyes looking straight at you. Fish have pointy heads with two large eyes on each side, staring unblinkingly at you (whether dead or alive – as we all know from eating trout in restaurants). They are scaly and cold-blooded, which makes it not exactly appealing to touch. Being cold-blooded and living in water it can hardly strive to become our favorite pet. It is also difficult to relate to the mood of fish – how do they show that they are unhappy? They don't growl, purr or bark... (OK, they do show anger, if I rememberJaws or Moby Dick correctly) And there is the “fish-eats-fish” angle; big fish eat shoals of little ones, which don’t score high on the cuteness scale.

The main result of the current campaign is its high entertainment value. Apart from creating our own silly Sea Kitten (see illustration), many of us are making relentlessly fun of PETA’s Sea Kitten in articles and on blogs. It downgrades the campaign to a Jessica Simpson-like gaffe level, similar to her "Is this chicken or is this tuna?" question while looking at a can of Chicken of the Sea tuna on her reality show. As Michael Pearce of the Wichita Eagle pointed out in his hilarious article, calling fish “Sea Kitten” needs some serious rewriting. He pointed out that according to the New Testament; Christ fed the 5,000 with five loaves of bread and “Sea Kittens”; not to mention the fact that several of his disciples were Sea Kitten hunters. Oy!

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