If all you know about People For Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is based on their ad campaigns, the organization may seem like a bad idea machine run by crazed, misogynistic vegans who’d rather throw a nude woman under a bus than eat Jello salad. But according to PETA’s Lindsay Rajt, who’s the organization’s Associate Director of Campaigns, that’s okay with them–because every time someone’s angry about another offensive ad campaign, someone else is donating money to one of their less offensive ones.
At Blisstree, we’ve written a lot about PETA’s campaigns–like the “Boyfriend Went Vegan” ad that glorified domestic abuse, or their crazy-pants plan to turn OJ Simpson’s old house into a “Meat Is Murder” museum–many of which, we don’t agree with. But we’ve also used PETA as a resource, because when they’re not trying to shock people, they’re providing critical information about how to be vegan (this baking cheat sheet is still a must-have), food safety, and matters like the so-called “ag-gag” bills, which would help the meat industry keep consumers in the dark.
So we wanted to give PETA a chance to explain their tactics. I won’t lie—I was pretty sure I would be speaking with a dreadlocked crusader, hell-bent on saving the world, no matter how many nude women it took. But instead, I ended up learning a lot about what PETA does–and why they stick with their controversial ads. Check out what Rajt had to say:
Can you just speak to why PETA goes in the direction it does with advertising?
I think the underlying reason is that, unlike our opposition that is mostly composed of very wealthy organzations, like the meat industry and the fur industry, we have to work a little harder to get our message out, because we don’t have millions and millions to spend. So we try to get free advertising, whether it be from the media, or with a lot of our celebrity campaigns, which give us free press.
Oh, that makes sense. So you use the media to get your message out?
Right. Over time, we’ve learned that these provocative and controversial campaigns tend to get picked up a lot more, and tend to get talked about a lot more. They’re a lot more memorable, and, you know, these days, everyone is receiving so many impressions each day, we want to make sure we’re one that they remember.
And your more shocking ad campaigns are the ones that people remember and drive traffic back to your site?
Exactly. Anything that really gives people pause and makes them talk about what they’ve seen, those definitely make a lasting impression. And of course with one campaign, you might not reach someone–it might just be a blip on their radar–so we try to just be everywhere and just have as many impression as it takes.
We also try to provide something for every taste, from the most risque to the most conservative. And we try to reach out to all ages. With kids, it’s an activity book about how great and smart elephants are…or we’re reaching out to senior citizens to let them know that elephants and senior citizens have more in common than wrinkles–they also both have arthritis.
Elephants suffer from arthritis?
Yeah, it’s one of the most common ailments in circus elephants.
Oh, that’s really sad. I feel like all we ever hear about PETA is that the ads are crazy and sometimes offensive, but something is clearly working. Do you tend to get more positive feedback than people on the outside might think?
I think our campaigns are more effective than people realize. For example, with the “Boyfriend Went Vegan” ad, we were able to see that just within the first day, we had more than 2,500 click-throughs that went straight from that feature to the Vegan Starter Kit. So, it worked.
We’re able to see how long people linger on the features, and what they’re paying attention to, and where they go on the site. And what we’ve seen is that these things really are working. They’re drawn in by the flash and the controversy, and then they linger and find interesting stuff and find information that they wouldn’t have otherwise been searching for.
A lot of our information isn’t stuff that people are searching for on their own–but the controversy draws them in, and then we present all of our other information there, too.