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PETA, Sex, and Shock: A Note on Misguided Marketing

Over the past few years, I’ve evolved from a staunch carnivore to someone a bit more understanding of why some people shun eating meat. In fact, I was able to stay more or less pescetarian for the good part of a year, up until I got sick of my very limited choices when eating out (bangus sisig, bangus sisig, calamares, bangus sisig, shrimp tempura, sizzling squid, bangus sisig, bangus sisig, bangus sisig, tuna sandwich, bangus sisig).

And while I am back to gorging on slaughterhouse stock for the time being, I can still grasp why those with far leafier diets choose to eat the way they eat, with a stance against animal cruelty and/or the desire for better health being the main reasons. For the sake of my own health, I do wish I were as disciplined (and rich) enough to go pure vegetarian for the long haul. (And damn it, longganisa, you sweet, garlicky temptress!)

This, then, is why I felt perturbed after watching the following commercial for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA):

Confused? Underwhelmed? A vague sense that you were somehow violated? Yeah, I felt those, too.

(If you can’t see the video here, check it out on Youtube.)


People for the Exposure of Tits and Asses

PETA has long been known for their provocative campaigns. Most everyone have seen the ads featuring naked celebrities with the caption, “I’d rather go naked than wear fur.” Also, the organization has long been caricatured as that angry little group of people throwing red paint at fur coats. These actions, among many others, have caused quite a backlash against PETA, for however good their intentions may be, accusations of being sexist, or sensationalist, or just plain asshole-y, are thrown in their direction quite often.

Some may justify their tactics by saying that shock and awe are necessary to catch people’s attention, especially considering today’s collective apathy-tinged attention deficit disorder. And sure, it will catch people’s attention, but that’s only a fraction of what it takes to truly promote a cause that you believe in. That’s what PETA—especially whoever’s running their marketing and PR arm—doesn’t seem to understand properly.

After you get people’s attention, you have to give a reason that’s legitimate and substantial, a reason that will make people really, truly think about the decisions they’ve been making. Should people opt for PETA’s advocacy, it should not be because a physically attractive celebrity is speaking up for it, or because throwing paint at rich, fur-encased people satisfies their monthly schadenfreude quota, but because these people were actually compelled to sit down and assess the information offered them through these campaigns.


A sore point

The recent commercial, for instance, only seems to proffer the following message: men who go vegan instantly become healthy and virile enough to be experts at incredibly rough, night-long sex, so much so that their partners’ bodies become bruised, battered, and very, very sore due to all that vigorous fucking, but the partners kind of like it anyway, so it’s all good then, join PETA, yipee-ki-yi-yay.

Now, I like a good dirty joke as much as the next pervert, but watching that video just left me cold. And vaguely angry. All those shots of the girl’s butt—especially the ones with the sunlight winking in between her legs as she stumbled sorely up a flight of stairs—that insinuated a very violent night of sex, was not that funny, nor that sexy. My natural reaction each time I saw those shots was to wince. And question whether the girl was a masochist, an unwitting victim, or an idiot.

These kinds of shock tactics come off as tacky, juvenile, ineffective, and sometimes, like in the case of this particularly crass, frat house joke of a commercial, even counter-effective or distractive. Did PETA seriously think that violent tantric sex was a universal selling point for a major lifestyle switch? Did PETA seriously think this was going to win them serious members? Did PETA seriously think that watching that commercial would make people think about going vegan, and NOT about masochism or female objectification or domestic abuse or all the countless other issues that the commercial actually brings up, albeit in a frustratingly coy way? Electrocuted pigs, environmental sustainability, and my Body Mass Index were the very least of my concerns after seeing that commercial.


The smarter sell

There are far more reasonable, dignified, and downright compelling ways to promote what I think is a solid advocacy, so why can’t PETA just go down that direction and avoid pissing people off? Imagine if PETA’s campaigns focused more on really detailing the actual health and/or ethical benefits of adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet. (Snazzy animated infographics campaign on Youtube, anyone?) If they scrapped all the gimmickry and promises of sore vaginas and focused on solid evidence, then they would deserve positive attention and respect.

Documentaries such as Food, Inc. and Earthlings, which focus on revealing what really goes on in the food industry, made me think twice about what my meals were made of. These films’ harrowing footage of live pigs hanging from hooks and getting their necks slit open, or cows riding what I can only describe as the Ferris Wheel of Blood and Pain, do rely on shock value to a point, but they also serve the purpose of informing and educating viewers. Yes, these films are biased—many documentaries are—but at least they try to treat their viewers as intelligent creatures with the capacity to form opinions, and not as a bunch of horny morons.

Again, I’m not a vegan, and I highly doubt that I ever will be. I’ve weighed my options and have sided with the caveman in me, but I respect and admire vegans/vegetarians/pescetarians all the same, because I was exposed to decent media that helped me to understand why there is veganism/vegetarianism/pescetarianism in the first place. A cause I am behind, however, is making PR, marketing, and advertising even just an iota more intelligent than it currently is. I would very much like to see more campaigns that rely on solid evidence; that have an earnest desire to inform rather than provoke; that challenges people to make their decisions based on fact, not fiction; and that have fewer close-ups of asses in post-coital distress.

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