PETA’s Campaigns

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Assignment 1 - Organisational Communications.

This essay critically explores and evaluates the nature of PETA's (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) advertising communications, concentrating mainly on one of the major criticisms that PETA uses numerous sexual images of women that perpetuate female objectification. Through a close examination of the campaign: 'Go Vegetarian', this essay will assess PETA's campaigns involving the sexualisation of women's bodies from a feminist perspective. In the process, the essay will demonstrate an understanding of a range of communications, theories and concepts for the idea that PETA relies on sexism to advance animal issues, and capture the attention of the viewer. The essay begins by using a feminist analysis to explore the theory of viral marketing in one of PETA's recent advertisements. This section will analyse how the use of viral marketing has created a direct approach from business to consumer allowing consumers to promote the service themselves (Smith, Coyle, Lightfoot, & Scott, 2007). The main focus here is the irony of how an organization which emphasises a social justice agenda, has subjected another social justice cause. It then reviews the contrasting approach of how PETA invokes, to some extent, a new wave of social change where women are escaping the oppression of patriarchy and having a strong sense of empowerment. This part of the essay will take on a semiotic approach to show how codes and context are central in producing meaning (Barthes, 1977). In exploring these issues, the essay endorses a broadly feminist standpoint on gender, although it also seeks to highlight a number of potential justifications and opposing arguments, it particulary focuses on the notion that PETA commodifies and exploits womens bodies to "sell' animal rights.

PETA is famously known for its flirtatious nudity in advertising to get their message of anti-animal cruelty across. Their creative but controversial advertising communications has caused a string of negative debates over the years which have become an integral part of their brand. Recently, PETA took a stab at viral advertising and produced a shocking Super Bowl advertisement called 'Veggie Love', which NBC rejected due to its provocative nature. This ad shows lingerie models seductively froilicking with vegetables with a tagline saying 'Studies show Vegetarians have better sex'. Superbowl commercials are viewed by millions including children which PETA failed to take into consideration.

Although this ad is explicit with the discursive message it is trying to convey, it relies on the theme of sex to promote and "sell" vegetarianism. It can be said that the women in this short 30-second-clip are objectified and subjected to the male gaze. Mulvey (1975) suggests '...women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness'. Although the ad is conveying a strong message that eating meat is wrong, it is clear that women are presented as sexual objects of male fantasy and desire. However, there is no clear suggestion that PETA aims their advertising communications specifically to the male audience. Female viewers are also compelled to take the viewpoint of the central character (male), participating also in the pleasure of men looking at women (Mulvey, 1975). The exploitation that animals undergo at the hands of humans makes this advertisement seem inappropriate and unjust. It can be said that the use of sexualized images of women is forgetting the horrific treatment that animals incur and that the true message of oppression has been forgotten and replaced to create a buzz about advertising strategies.

Ironically, it can be said that PETA's banned viral campaign worked mostly to their advantage. Viral marketing is used to encourage consumers or individuals to pass on a message to others, creating the potential for expansion in the message's exposure and influence (Rushkoff, 1994). It can be said that audiences better receive viral marketing than traditional third party marketing because it is an implied approval from a friend. Due to the fact that viral marketing is highly dependent of consumers passing on a message, marketers are now even more concerned in creating a campaign that is controversial or unethical (Kilby, 2005). For the marketing strategy to work, a buzz has to be created from consumer-to-consumer. This PETA advertisement is of a provocative nature to initiate the 'ripple effect' which ultimately benefits the organization and its stakeholders. Minus the negative criticism around the campaign, whether planned or unplanned, PETA's viral marketing strategy is a positive one in terms of the publicity it received. The fact that the advertisement was banned from television but can still be seen in the social sphere of the internet creates more of a "buzz" about PETA as an organization whilst allowing them to promote at a low cost. Consequently, looking at both standpoints, PETA has used its advertising communications here in a strategic way however, this advertisement does not benefit in highlighting the true cause.

On the other hand, although it can be said that PETA uses its advertising communications to put across a positive message whilst simultaneously exploiting women, there is one less controversial advertisement in particular that can be viewed as a paradox to the viral advertisement and many other PETA campaigns. The 'We can do it' campaign, taken and adjusted from the 1940's advertisement for the Westinghouse Company, by J. Howard Miller, draws the idea of female liberation and empowerment.

This advertisement highlights the Vegetarianism campaign. This advertisement shows a young, attractive woman, Playboy model Laura Anderson, posing with a 'Popeye' stance, wearing a red and white polka dot headband and a blue denim cropped shirt. Her eyes are directed straight into the camera lens and her mouth is agape. Her lips are red and her stomach is exposed. Directly above everything is the written text: 'We can do it'. The ad is clearly an adaptation of Miller's painting famously associated with cultural icon of the United Status, Rosie the Riveter. Rosie the Riveter represented the American woman that worked in the factories during World War II and we can see that the '30's and '40's era is still fairly suggestive in this PETA adveritsement. During this period of time, women were considered submissive to men and were required to stay at home and fend for the family while the male acts as the breadwinner. Polka dot headbands are old fashioned, reminiscient of a housewife or working woman. The woman and the key signifiers connotate female liberation, escaping the supression of patriarchy and taking on the female empowerment agenda. The confident stance is similar to how a male would pose and the fact that this is a woman creates the idea that women are somewhat equal to men. The elements can connate the strong independent woman who stands for what she thinks is right, in this case, becoming a vegetarian. Only a few visual aspects of this advertisement have been altered from the original. The fact that the woman's shirt is cropped in the PETA ad still creates the element of objectification. It can be said that the woman in the PETA advertisement has been 'sexed up' and is subject to the male gaze. This advertisement is complex and witty in a way that it presents female liberation creating the illusion or war on the meat industry however spoofs it at the same time. Although the woman is clearly representing a sense of freedom, the red lipstick, red polka dot headband and the cropped shirt connotates a sense of seduction and sexuality. The fact that PETA chose a Playboy model also to represent their organization can also be questioned