PETA's ten-worst publicity stunts -- until the chicken

The City of Denver will decide today whether PETA can install a 250-pound, bloody and butchered chicken sculpture -- dubbed "McCruelty," but really looking like a worse-for-the-wear Foghorn Leghorn -- on the 16th Street Mall.

This isn't PETA's first stunt, of course. Last year, Jason Sheehan catalogued the animal- (and publicity-) loving organization's ten worst stunts, which we reproduce here:

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- is a lot of things. It is a political organization dedicated to saving all the cute critters on the planet. It is a finely-tuned donation-gathering machine that preys on weepy liberals who'd rather empty their wallets than think too much about where their food comes from. It is a clubhouse for every freaked-up whack-job on earth who believes in veganism as insurrection and thinks that otters ought to be given the same rights as human beings. It is an organization that is single-handedly keeping bumper-sticker manufacturers in the black.

These days, though, PETA has also become the undisputed champion of the advertising/PR world. In my mind, its headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia is like some kind of giant tree-fort full of the craziest, smartest, most fucked-up minds in the publicity business -- a cross between the press room at the Center for American Progress and MAD magazine in the '70s, the whole place stinking of patchouli, weed and money. Seriously, some of the wildest notions in marketing have come from this fertile bed of crazy, and today, PETA seems to exist solely to provide bored journalists with an unending trough of A-grade material with which to fill blogs like this one. Its publicity stunts are the best, the weirdest, so carefully keyed to evoke a mix of outrage and belly-laughs that they border on genius.

So in honor of PETA's recent stunt outside the National Cattleman's Beef Association conference -- where it "barbecued" a human being -- I offer you this: The ten best PETA stunts from over the years.

10. National Veggie Dog Day on Capitol Hill

Playboy Playmates wear lettuce bikinis and serve veggie dogs to lawmakers.

Why it was awesome: Because it was hot girls wearing produce and un-ironically giving sausages to horny congressmen. Duh. Sometimes the simple things work best.

9. Naked Chicks for Chicken (or something)

PETA dispatches an army of hot ladies to a busy street in Cleveland, Ohio, where they strip naked and slip into sandwich boards that say something about chicken, making drivers equal parts horny and hungry.

Why it was awesome: They were naked. And it was held right outside of a KFC right around lunch time, which was super convenient. desktop_sea_kittens_peta2.jpg

8. Campaign: Sea Kittens!

PETA "tries" to get the word "fish" changed to "Sea Kittens" so that people will be less likely to eat them. Uh, because now they're called kittens. And kittens don't taste good. Or something ...

Why it was awesome: Because this was PETA's brazenly dimwitted attempt at arguing semantics and playing word games rather than going straight for the shock, awe and nudity. Also, it trusted in the fact that people (namely, me) would somehow be sickened by the thought of eating kittens when, in truth, people (in particular, me) only thought that calling fish Sea Kittens made them sound even more delicious. As such, the campaign failed to have any real impact or draw a significant amount of press, but because it was a failure, it smoothly paved the way for more advertising stunts involving naked Spaniards, like...

7. Unnamed, so I'm calling it The Naked Spanish Girls in Cages campaign

See above.

Why it was awesome: See above. See also The Naked British Pregnant Ladies in Cages campaign, which is just WAY more disturbing than it is awesome. makedpeta.jpg A Flickr photo.

6. Some sort of World Vegetarian Week protest in Memphis

Take two PETA interns, cover them in fake blood, wrap them in plastic wrap (a la grocery store flank steaks) and leave them out on the sidewalk on an 80 degree day. Funny thing: sun-dried interns still smell like cheap cologne, cheaper weed and sixers of warm Rolling Rock.

Why it was awesome: Because I was looking for something to do with a couple of the spare interns we have hanging around the office here. Also, according to the picture of the quote/unquote protest, no one seemed to notice at all. kfc.jpg

5. Kentucky Fried Cruelty

PETA tries to claim that it is willing to drop millions of dollars on buying up commercial time during the Super Bowl in 2008, but that FOX refused to air its two thirty-second junkie chicken/zombie movie/Silence of the Lambs-style, anti-KFC spots.

Why it was awesome: A perfect example of anti-advertising. The minute that FOX refused to air the ads, they were picked up and shown (for free) just about everywhere. It took me all of ten seconds to find both of them online. And here I am playing right into PETA's hands by linking to them here and here. See how deviously clever those folks are?

4. KFC Cruelty (again)

PETA sends toys to journalists because, recognizing what sort of black-hearted bastards we are, it knows we're going to display them prominently on our desks just to creep out our co-workers.

Why it was awesome: Because I still have both the mutilated wind-up baby chicken and the blood-spattered and maniacal Colonel Sanders bobble-head at my desk.

3. McCruelty mccruetly.jpg A Flickr photo.

Happy Meals of the future! Blood-covered packaging, sneering, knife-wielding clowns and free T-shirts! It's like the wonderboys at PETA looked right into my nightmares for this one and came back with a way to both take a shot at one of the biggest chain restaurant operations in the world and alienate me -- a guy who absolutely loathes fast-food chain operations. That's some careful parsing of your message right there, guys -- managing to offend both sides of a single argument in one fell swoop.

Why it was awesome: I'm still trying to figure out exactly what PETA was hoping to accomplish with this campaign. It seems deliberately designed to piss off pretty much everyone, but doesn't have any easy hook (like pictures of naked supermodels or interns dying of heatstroke) for media people (like me) to make fun of/exploit with our snarky, snarky words. But because it has been proven time and time again that the PETA publicity brain trust is far smarter than I am, I'm including McCruelty on the list because I'm sure there's something here (subliminal messages, hypnotic suggestion or Manchurian Candidate-style mind-control) that I'm just not getting. PETAHolocaustpic.gif

2. "Holocaust on your Plate"

Sixty-square-feet posters of concentration camp victims shown side-by-side with images of pigs in factory farms. Not subtle, not even terribly apt, but an undeniable attention-getter.

Why it was awesome: Wanting to get the most bang for their promotional buck, the geniuses at PETA took this exhibition straight to where it would offend the most people: Germany! Plus, they got bonus points for turning it into a free speech issue argued before the Federal Constitutional Court, and losing -- forcing journalists everywhere to jump through semantic hoops in defending PETA's right to free expression while condemning the actual content. fur.jpg

1. Fur Is Dead

Holy motherfucking Jesus. Dig this: During holiday performances of The Nutcracker across the country, PETA activists dressed like furries handed out free copies of a comic book to children whose parents were wearing fur coats. Sweet, right? Oh, wait... What's this? It's called "Your Mommy Kills Animals"? And is filled with graphic pictures of skinned minks and mutilated foxes? And contains lines like: Do you have a puppy you take for walks or play ball with? Or a kitty who likes to chase string? How would you feel if someone took away your kitty or puppy, stomped on their head and ripped the skin off their bodies? One of those terrible people is your mommy. Your mommy kills animals! Good for us the American educational system is so bad that most of the kids probably couldn't read the comics and didn't care because there were no pictures of Spongebob getting his skin torn off.

Why it was awesome: Because, for a change, PETA wasn't just going for some kind of cheap publicity stunt involving naked women and news cameras. No, this time its was looking to seriously and irrevocably fuck up children. And that kind of move? It takes balls. It takes a lack of morality and basic decency bordering on pathological. It takes the kind of heartless commitment to one's ridiculous and uncompromising principles that would've made Scrooge sit back, throw up his hands and say, "Whoa, dude. Don't you think that might be just a little bit over the line?" The Christmas Fur Is Dead campaign truly showed that there is no level too low for PETA, no border it will not cross. Sure, those advertising copywriters might be going to hell for what they did, but baby, they're going straight to the front of the line.

-- Jason Sheehan

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun