CAMPAIGNS: Activism - PETA's softer sell was not a 'turkey'

Client: PETA (Norfolk, VA)

PR Team: In-house

Campaign: Thanksgiving

Time Frame: November

Budget: $50,000

This past Thanksgiving marked the first holiday season that People for

the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) debuted a kinder, gentler

approach to activism. Long known for its media-savvy stunts (such as

Macy's 1995 Thanksgiving parade, when four PETA members were arrested

for streaking), the organization made the decision that its trademark

in-your-face tactics wouldn't be well received after September 11. So in

one of the group's most radical management actions, 2001's turkey day

saw legions of calm, consumer-friendly PETA reps engaging in the kind of

dignified, low-key PR that would be more expected from the PTA than the

country's most outspoken leftist vegetarians.


According to Bruce Friedrich, PETA's vegan campaign coordinator,the

group's number-one goal has always been to spark interpersonal

relations. Out-rageous methods (such as naked women painted as leopards

to protest circuses) seemed to be the quickest and most effective means

of grabbing the attention of the average American, and getting them to

ask questions - or at least listen. "We've never been focused on winning

popularity contests," says Freidrich. "We've always had as a primary

goal raising the issue of animal suffering. It has been our experience

that it's the titillation and the confrontation that allows us to reach

into the homes in rural Montana."

That goal of raising awareness remains firmly in place, despite a new

focus on methods that "unite and educate, rather than divide and

cajole," says Friedrich.


PETA has about 10,000 volunteers across the country. For the first time,

PETA leaders asked activists to take to the streets with nothing more

shocking than leaflets. Five hundred volunteers passed out 50,000

informational brochures during the holiday weekend, far exceeding

expectations. Those grassroots workers also "talked about the way

turkeys are treated today, and that these animals are abused from the

moment they are born to the moment they are killed," explains


The organization also sent a letter of protest to George Bush regarding

the traditional Presidential pardon of two turkeys, along with a

"Tofurky," a veggie alternative. That letter asked the President to be

honest about the fate of the spared turkeys - which, apparently, rarely

live more than a few months due to commercial growing methods that

disproportionally increase the birds' body weight, causing the heart and

lungs to collapse.

PETA also contacted 400 homeless shelters, offering to donate vegetarian

turkeys provided by Native Foods and Tofurky. Martin Sheen spearheaded

that portion of the campaign, giving it a celebrity edge - a longtime

PETA tactic.

On the war front, PETA sent 5,000 packages of vegetarian jerky to the

aircraft carrier USS Teddy Roosevelt. Finally, PETA sponsored an essay

contest, which was advertised via its website and e-mail lists. Twenty

winners each received vegetarian holiday entrees.


"It's too early to say for sure," admits Friedrich, "but we've been

pleased with the results." However, Friedrich notes that the new methods

have garnered less press coverage. For example, PETA recently filed a

shareholder resolution against McDonald's. But because there were no

noisy activists protesting on the streets, that tactic got very little

press. However, the attention PETA has gotten is positive and to the


The AP ran a story mentioning the vegetarian jerky, and ABC's John

Stossel did a piece on the fate of the Presidentially pardoned turkeys.

The essay contest received more than 1,100 entries, and about 50

homeless shelters accepted the food donations.


PETA is sticking by its new image for the near future, but Friedrich

says the key to success is more time to plan. The Thanksgiving changes

were implemented on the fly, so upcoming campaigns will be backed by

more preparation. But PETA is happy with its new direction. "If things

keep going as they've been going," vows Friedrich, "I would see this as

our new modus operandi."

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