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.

And PETA never quits. This week, they announced their new campaign-renaming fish “sea kittens.” Fish are suffering, according to PETA, from a serious image problem. And they intend to fix that through a new campaign that, they hope, will cause people to think of undersea creatures as they think of their beloved four-legged pets.

Detractors say PETA’s campaigns do more harm than good and are offensive. Trying to draw attention to the dismal conditions of milk-producing cows, PETA launched a “Drink Beer, Not Milk” campaign and Mothers Against Drunk Driving rightfully took offense. Their “Holocaust on Your Plate” campaign makes a detailed comparison between human genocide and the mistreatment of farm animals, which was justly condemned by nonprofits such as the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Anti-Defamation League, and hundreds of others.

PETA’s radicalism certainly hasn’t stopped the slew of celebrities who want to endorse them. Bill Maher sits on the board of directors of PETA. Pamela Anderson poses for PETA ads and even has her own line of cruelty-free clothing. Stella and Paul McCartney, Ellen DeGeneres, Chrissie Hynde, Joaquin Phoenix, Alicia Silverstone, Gillian Anderson, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, Kevin Nealon, and many others have made a commitment to a cruelty-free lifestyle and a compassionate diet.

PETA seems to be the most successful radical organization in America, receiving millions of dollars in donations every year, most of it in small contributions from its 800,000 members and supporters. If being extreme gets PETA what they want and getting what you want defines success, then right or wrong, PETA continues to succeed.



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