PETA: Reaching New Levels of Ridiculousness
PETA fishing for sympathy for 'sea kittens'
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has launched a marketing campaign to rebrand fish as "sea kittens," a name the organization hopes will increase awareness and make the vertebrates more endearing to those who would eat them.
"A lot of people don't realize that fish are capable of feeling fear and pain, that they develop relationships with each other, and even show affection by gently rubbing against one another," says Ashley Byrne, PETA's sea kitten campaign co-ordinator. "Knowing that the fish sticks in the school cafeteria are really made out of tortured sea kittens makes most kids want to lose their lunch."
The advocacy effort, which also addresses environmental concerns about over-fishing, is the latest in a growing list of publicity campaigns by non-profits, conservationists and animal activists that treat "misunderstood" creatures - everything from cats to slugs and spiders - as if they were celebrities in need of better representation.
As a humourous entry on the sea kitten website states, "fish need to fire their PR guy-stat. Whoever was in charge of creating a positive image for fish needs to go right back to working on the Britney Spears account and leave our scaly little friends alone."
Although the youth-focused campaign has drawn snickers from critics, none of PETA's long record of animal rights victories has come without some public mockery. It was by using similar tactics that the organization strong-armed such corporate giants as McDonald's, Safeway, Wendy's, Burger King and, most recently, Canadian KFC restaurants to implement new standards of animal welfare.
On fishinghurts.com, PETA also addresses worldwide concerns about over-fishing.
According to a 2006 Canadian-led study in the journal Science, nearly one-third of all fishing stocks worldwide have declined to less than 10 per cent of their maximum observed abundance. Should depletion continue at this pace, researchers warn all stocks currently fished would collapse by 2050.
But Dalhousie biology professor Jeff Hutchings believes PETA's attempt to address the issue is "misguided" at best.
"Worldwide, we can't even reduce our fishing pressure, so the thought of eliminating fishing altogether is simply absurd," says Hutchings, chairman of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. "Furthermore, any positive benefits that might be realized by drawing attention to the plight of fish are, to my mind, weakened by the costs of a campaign that calls fish 'sea kittens'."
But marketing expert Allen Adamson, who has written several books on branding, believes the strategy is a savvy one in the way it appeals to children.
"Deer are often a nuisance but because of the Bambi image, they get a better ride than a lot of other animals," says Adamson, managing director of global branding firm Landor Associates. "Whatever you can do to make the cause come to life and allow people to emotionally connect to it will make (the message) more effective."
It's not just Nemo who's getting a makeover these days.
The North American CATalyst initiative, helmed by a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, aims to "rebrand the cat . . . and give it a better identity" than its dubious stereotype as the aloof companion to "crazy cat ladies."
The U.K.'s Invertebrate Conservation Trust last year launched Love Spiders, an advocacy campaign "to persuade the public to fall in love with an animal that many people would run a mile from."
And in Canada, Edmonton bug wrangler Terry Thormin has spent the better part of the last two decades promoting respect for insects.
"We've been taught from a very early age that insects are 'creepy crawlies' - and creepy means disgusting, it means bad, it means we shouldn't love them the same way we love our cats and dogs," says Thormin, former acting curator of invertebrate zoology at the Royal Alberta Museum. "There's a real image problem with anything that doesn't have two or four legs."