The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), or that group known in the United States for bombarding people with horrifying images of animal slaughter, has decided to take its anti-fur message to China with a much more subdued—and even classier—marketing approach.
PETA, which has become, as Adland puts it, a “terrible tarnished brand” in the United States thanks to its tacky, over-the-top ad campaigns, enlisted a top ad agency to rework its image in China. Ogilvy & Mather Beijing worked with the organization to devise a campaign that relied not on shock value or D-list celebrities in skimpy outfits, but rather on a highly stylized combination of physical and digital media meant to draw attention, but not disgust.
As you can see from the video above (warning: graphic images before 0:34), the company created billboards with animals whose “fur” was actually made up of thousands of needles, and every time someone pledged their support online, one of the needles changed into a hair. Chinese celebrities and public opinion leaders helped spread word of the campaign, which called on the general public through social media and video to vow not to wear fur.
This campaign came about at a time in which China has been in the news for a slew of animal-cruelty related incidents. In addition to taking the blame as the main market for endangered animal parts such as ivory, tiger skins, and rhino horns, the country is also known for particularly inhumane practices such as bear bile extraction. This summer, a group of Chinese tourists stirred an uproar on social media when they posted pictures of themselves catching endangered sea animals in the Paracels—and then, to readers’ horror, cooking them for dinner.
The issue at hand is not that Chinese people are inherently crueler to wildlife, but rather that there is simply a lack of education on the subject, which PETA is trying to change. According to a recent article in Tea Leaf Nation discussing Chinese tourists’ “assault on wildlife”, one of the reviled tourists on the aforementioned trip “bragged about eating an endangered giant clam at the Paracels, but also snapped pictures of a baby sea turtle, declaring: ‘We must take care of them!’”
According to the article, education and institutional oversight are the main factors needed to reverse this naiveté, and both will give way to gradual change:
In particular, the development of environmental conscience and practical know-how is a long institutional process that takes decades. In the 1950s, middle-class Americans dumped their trash on the ground after picnics. In recent decades, collecting one’s trash before leaving has become the norm there. Now, a similar shift is happening among middle class Chinese. There are stories like that of Chinese millionaire Wenyue Bing (翁岳兵), a scuba diving enthusiast who has taken on great personal expense to develop Chinese training programs for responsible tourism in the South China Sea.
As norms change, economic incentives remain arguably the most powerful drivers. For example, Beijing residents are already prodigious recyclers, hoarding and collecting every little bit of plastic, electric wire, paper, and other recyclable trash to sell at the end of the month.
PETA takes less of an “educational” approach in lieu of one based more on traditional advertising—through the use of celebrity endorsements and a highly stylized, technologically advanced campaign, being anti-fur becomes stylish and trendy. The campaign was highly effective in terms of response: the video states that 80,000 pledged their support online.
It is yet to be seen whether or not anti-fur attitudes will catch on as they have in the the United States, where fur sales have dropped by more than a third between 2002 and 2012. In the near future, this new wave of animal rights advocacy has its work cut out for it: as fur sales have slumped elsewhere, they have more than tripled in China over the past decade, and fashion designers have actually been using more fur in their collections as a result of rising Chinese and Russian demand.