Nude models claiming: “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur”; billboards reading: “Breeders Kill Shelter Dogs’ Chances-Always Adopt and Practice Animal Birth Control”; print ads exclaiming: “Calling All Children, Don’t Go To the Circus!” Pointed, outrageous, admired, and criticized, PETA’s messaging is the type that makes the audience sit up and take notice.
Founded in 1980 by Ingrid Newkirk, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) boasts more than 800,000 members around the world, making it the largest animal rights organization. With their mission: “Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on or use for entertainment,” their public campaigns are designed to garner attention, with the hope of education and sympathy coming along with it. Newkirk herself states that extremism and outrage provide fuel for PETA. She admits that they are press sluts. She feels PETA would be worthless if they were just polite and did not make any waves. But do these radical campaigns really work?
While Newkirk constantly risks alienating and offending people through drastic campaigns, she believes her tactics work overwhelmingly for the good of both the organization and the nonhuman animals PETA fights to protect. Several years ago, following a PETA campaign that included distribution of “Unhappy Meals” with wounded and bloody farm animal toys, McDonald’s became the first major company in U.S. history to require its suppliers to treat animals humanely. Burger King and Wendy’s followed suit and now all three fast-food chains have adopted policies designed to improve the treatment of animals whose meat they get from suppliers. The policies include unannounced visits to supplier slaughterhouses and threats to terminate contracts with meat processors that mistreat animals.
PETA’s “Fur Is Dead” campaign, where they get creative in showing consumers that behind every fur coat, collar, or cuff is a living animal, has convinced designers such as Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, and Calvin Klein and retailers such as Kenneth Cole, Ann Taylor, Express, Gap, Banana Republic, Forever 21, American Eagle Outfitters, J.Crew, and Eddie Bauer among others to stop selling fur. PETA even convinced Oliver Stone, Rob Reiner, and other filmmakers to keep real fur off movie sets.
Other notches in PETA’s belt include persuading General Motors Corp. to stop using animals in crash tests, convincing Abercrombie & Fitch, Timberland, and H&M to boycott Australian mulesed wool and pressuring Revlon Inc., Avon Products Inc., and more than 500 other cosmetic companies to stop animal testing.