Ah, spring! When young protesters' minds turn to naked activism!
PETA is in the news, as always, with protesters in various stages of undress attempting to raise consciousness about animal cruelty, whether it's the sale of glue traps at Lowe's hardware stores in the States, foie gras at Selfridges store in London, England, or bullfights in Croatia.
As a social marketer, I can't ignore PETA's success in getting their message in front of a large global audience audience. Controversy gets attention. Even when the approach gets them banned from the Super Bowl:
'Veggie Love': PETA's Banned Super Bowl Ad
But the question I have to ask myself is, are they really accomplishing their goals? Here in Canada, we're keeping PETA particularly busy with the public brutality of our seal hunt. To try to stop it, the organization is calling for a boycott of Canadian maple syrup (which will only affects a small cottage industry of eastern farmers whose only crime is making trees bleed), making fun of Canada's 2010 Olympics logo (which just got them in legal trouble for modifying the rings), and speaking out against the Governor General for eating raw seal heart with the Inuit (although she seems to have endeared herself to many Canadians through the act).
I'm pretty sure that any bad publicity PETA stirs up, however, is all (vegan) gravy to them since it's pretty clear that their real goal was never social marketing at all, but is just a massive recruitment campaign for young, impressionable activists.
"Real" social marketing, in my view, is about giving people the information they need to make informed and realistic lifestyle changes for their own good and the good of society. While PETA conveys these messages when you actually read their various communications, their tactics speak a different language: shock and awe.
These kinds of ads are what we call "preaching to the choir"; they are unlikely to get old ladies or debutantes to keep from buying fur, but they do appeal to activists who want to see someone stick it to "cruel" businesses and consumers. To the mainstream, they just continue to ghettoize PETA and its supporters as a hysterical fringe movement that sees animals as nothing less than (or even greater than) humans.
At the same time, a veritable army of celebrity spokesmodels use their star power or other... ummm... "assets" to attract concerned young women desperate for attention (link is GIS result containing gratuitous public nudity) — and young men desperate to hang around with young women who are desperate for attention. They even have a contest for "sexiest vegetarian" that attracts teenage girls hungry for media exploitation.
I'm sure PETA will continue to find new recruits to replace the ones who move on, to make headlines around the world, and to cause their volunteers to get sunburnt in delicate places. They'll even make the occasional PR victory against a company through sheer embarrassment.
But will they ever convert masses of mainstream meat-eaters to lifelong vegetarianism? Cause a sport fishermen to cast off their hooks? Get the Inuit to stop hunting seals?
You tell me.