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Sunday, 19 February 2012

PETA ad causes controversy

Lots of news stories about the latest PETA ad which I guess is how PETA like it. With over 1.6 million views on the official PETA site in a week and hundreds of news stories I assume they view it as a success, though this time they may have bitten off more than they can chew. PETA have often used sex and nudity in their campaigns, usually in a more glamorous fashion shoot way. This ad somehow seems more disturbing, and unsurprisingly some people have said it trivialises violence against women.

I don't know if PETA anticipated the reaction. I'd guess not, and the agency that came up with it probably didn't expect it either. I said earlier there was something disturbing about the trailer and I think it illustrates how in advertising a thin idea can turn into something far worse just through the execution. Maybe the idea began as a simple suggestive film that said vegans make better lovers. A concept that might have included jokey references to vegetables, lots of innuendo, a humorous voiceover and most importantly two equal, willing participants. But in the end we are left with something far different thanks to its cinematography, lynx deodorant styling, its ambiguity (did he send her out on the streets in her underwear?), its voiceover and finally its title which does not talk about Vegan's having better sex or being better lovers but instead says her "Vegan boyfriend knocked the bottom out of me". It is a phrase I am sure most women would never use, and one I have only heard used by men, when describing sex to each other as "I knocked the bottom out of it" (notice the use of the word It).

Of course the result has been lots of views and lots of press but I am not sure if it has resulted in many male vegan converts. Obviously if you are promoting animal welfare, against the fur trade, and trying to promote a vegan lifestyle it seems a bit daft to provoke a negative reaction from the public and media through being associated with condoning violence against women. Of course, many people will say "what's the big deal?" but they would also probably say exactly the same thing about eating meat or wearing fur. Even if you try and claim those who object are a minority the simple fact is that minority are most likely to be the same people who are likely to support PETA's cause if not their methods.

It is a reminder how far people will go to promote a cause and how often it encourages tunnel vision. Many charities and worthwhile causes push the boundaries when it comes to shock tactics or controversy. Advertising agencies love them for that very reason as the regulatory controls that limit how far they can go when promoting dull products like toilet duck or car insurance simply don't apply. I have met a lot of people who work in charity marketing and seen a lot of it over the years and I am always surprised at how manipulative it is.  It often shows no restraint as it works on the principal "the ends justify the means".

At its worst this lack of restraint exploits the needy and vulnerable. For example the elderly, who often still value letters, respond well to direct mail that is personalised and carefully tested, giving money to charity they perhaps cannot afford. Daytime TV advertising targets the retired and people on low incomes (on daytime TV charity ads seem to alternate with ads for loans).  The success of these tactics leads to more charities using these methods as they aim to improve their ROI, while the person who gives soon finds themselves on the "ladder of giving", asked to respond to ever more urgent emergency appeals and remember those far less fortunate at times like Christmas. The problem is what happens when the person giving is one of the less fortunate?

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