PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is the world’s largest animal rights organization in the world.
In 2008, PETA submitted a commercial to NBC executives for commercial consideration during Superbowl XLIII. The commercial, which portrayed nearly-nude women fondling vegetables in a comedy of innuendoes, sparked controversy from feminists nationwide by proclaiming that “Vegetarians have better sex”. Feminists argue that PETA’s advertising, in its attempt to stop the exploitation of animals, exploits women.
When PETA executives created this commercial, they knew it would be controversial. In today’s economy, a nonprofit like PETA simply can’t afford or justify millions of dollars to advertise during the Superbowl. However, I believe these clever executives knew exactly what they were doing. As soon as the commercial was rejected, PETA cried foul. In reality, the likelihood that they could even afford to pay NBC for the airtime is slim at best. Most likely, PETA executives expected the commercial would get rejected, so they could then complain, and then the commercial would be at the center of attention. This shows that PETA executives understand the value of bad publicity. In fact, Ingrid Newkirk, President and Cofounder of PETA, argued,” We do play the game from within the system. That is what we have chosen to do.” Clearly PETA’s intent is no secret. In response to outlash pending from PETA’s, “I’d Rather Be Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign, Newkirk argues, “if it competes with selling fur coats and makes people think you can be sexy…great.” Clearly, PETA executives are focused on raising awareness, regardless of whether they exploit women or not.
While PETA’s ad clearly exploits women, the central goal is reached: animal awareness is raised. Nonprofit organizations like PETA are fighting a tough battle in the war for consumer attention. Bud Light GoDaddy.com, and Hooters commercials constantly exploit women in an effort to garner viewer attention, so feminists should be happy that female exploitation at least serves some positive role. While perhaps PETA’s taste could be redefined, their efforts are successful: we’re having this discussion. If PETA had the gargantuan budgets of its on-air competitors, maybe they could produce less offensive, yet effective material. PETA advertising campaigns focus on creating conversation, whether positive or negative. In this they have surely succeeded.
PETA’s opponents misconstrue the organization’s mission: to abolish the exploitation of animals – not women. PETA has a history of utilizing outrages avenues to articulate their messages. From comic books to billboards, PETA’s marketers try to remain at the forefront of public discourse. They have even given children McDonald Happy Meal-lookalikes called McCruelty Meals, depicting an evil Ronald McDonald who butchers chickens. The bottom line is that in today’s society, companies have to get creative to grab the attention of the populace. Simply put, nearly-nude women are big attention-getters.. Unfortunately, a commercial where the models simply speak PETAs message wouldn’t nearly deliver the same punch. Feminists will surely fight these battles for years to come
Women choose to be involved in these commercials, whether they agree or disagree with PETA’s message. If women ever want to overcome exploitation and stereotypes, they’ll first have to boycott involvement in these types of media. However, at the end of the day, nonprofits, just like businesses, need attention to survive. In these times, exploiting women is the means to accomplishing raised awareness, so we can expect to see more of these advertisements in the future.