Anti-Ad Campaign of the Month: PETA’s Members Target Vogue, Using Blood
and Intestines as Ammunition
By Anna Sophie Loewenberg
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) started its campaign
against Vogue for flaunting fur on the magazine’s pages, the organization
didn’t anticipate the lengths to which some of its members would
go to get the message to Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, that
fur is not fashionable.
In December 1997, a group of activists painted bloody footprints on the
sidewalk leading to Wintour’s Manhattan home, and left a pool of
blood at her doorstep. Shortly after, the activists, calling themselves
the "Paint Panthers," promptly left a message on the PETA answering
machine claiming responsibility for the action. Earlier that year, another
animal rights activist dumped a dead raccoon on Wintour’s plate while
she was dining with friends in a restaurant. In April 2000, Freda Fox,
a PETA member, delivered a package of maggot-infested animal innards to
Wintour’s office. She later called PETA, identifying herself and
explaining, "Anna stole this animal’s skin and his life, she
might as well have his guts," a PETA press release quotes Fox as
"Very often, people feel so strongly that they take action on their
own," said Joey Penello, a correspondent at PETA. He said that often
no one is caught or charged by the police, but that the media hear that
the activists are PETA members and assumes that PETA is responsible. And
although the organization did not plan these protests against Vogue, PETA
proudly reports the terrorizing activities of its members in press releases
on its Web site.
PETA is just one of the organizations expressing its outrage over offensive
advertisements in magazines. Others include ASH (Action on Smoking and
Health), and Commercial Alert, both of which spend their time and resources
protesting the power that magazine advertisements have on shaping the
buying habits of millions of American consumers.
The ASH Web site criticizes cigarette ads that are aimed at people of
color. Grievances include glossy images of a geisha smoking Virginia Slims
or menthols just for blacks in multiple-page ads in magazines like People,
Marie Claire, Essence, Latina and Home Journal.
Commercial Alert, a national family network whose mission is to protect
children and communities from commercialism, advertising and marketing,
also has a Web site, as well as letter writing campaigns. "So much
of our advertising is done by corporate felons," says Gary Ruskin,
the director of Commercial Alert. He names Cosmopolitan, Girl Teen, People
and WM, as some of the "worst" magazines which portray negative
images of women for the eyes of young adults.
While most of these organizations have little power compared to that of
the magazine industry, organizations like PETA are gaining public attention.
PETA supporters include movie stars Pamela Anderson, Sandra Bernhard and
Woody Harrelson, all of whom have signed PETA anti-fur petitions aimed
at Vogue. According to Penello, other fashion magazines such as Cosmopolitan
have responded well to pressure from PETA and discontinued advertisements
and fashion spreads using furs, but Vogue won’t budge. So the Vogue
campaign has now become more personal, focused on Wintour. "Through
our publicity, we’ve been able to show what kind of a person Anna
Wintour is," said Penello. "She is the type of person who would
throw on fur just to get the mail," he said.
Both Wintour and Patrick O’Connell, a publicist at the magazine,
refused to comment on their relationship with PETA. The animal rights
organization claims to have failed in its attempts to talk to Wintour
face-to-face. Penello said that PETA tried to place its own advertisement
in Vogue, but that it was rejected.
PETA focuses its energy on putting together celebrity fund-raisers, tracking
offensive advertisements using animals, and organizing letter-writing
campaigns. According to Anna West, a PETA correspondent who logs phone
complaints about offensive advertising, PETA receives about 700,000 calls
annually. West then encourages members to write to magazines and advertisers
directly, and she lists the worst advertisements on the PETA Web site.
"It is not always the most blatantly cruel ads, the ones that are
meant to shock people, that we target," West said. "We also
focus on the more subtle advertisements." For example, this year
PETA plans to target a Wamsutta advertisement that features a woman writing
a Christmas list that has "give away kittens."
As with most organizations defying the pressures of consumerism and the
advertising culture, PETA has found that its most powerful tactic is to
let its members take their own action. "We do try to plan things
and get creative," Penello said. "Maybe we’ll suggest that
members place a PETA sticker on anyone wearing a fur coat, but a PETA
member goes out with a paintbrush and paints all over Joan Rivers’s
fur coat." &