For PETA’s sake, choose PR wisely

A recent PETA campaign in which a 'dog' appeared to be barbecued in Sydney's Pitt Street was not the right way to do PR, writes Nicole Reaney.

Yesterday animal activist group PETA cooked up a very divisive message in Sydney’s CBD. Masked as pretence to promote veganism ahead of Australia Day, a dog that looked very real to passers-by was seen heavily charred over a barbecue adding one slogan: “If you wouldn’t eat a dog, why eat a lamb? Go vegan”.

Controversy and shock value are often used by brands as an attempt to hijack the news cycle and generate viral attention. Brands over the years have been able to execute this successfully – finding that sweet spot between causing offense to some pockets of the market but not the core.

PETA internationally is no stranger to this tactic, over the years it has stirred offerings from sexism, discrimination, cruelty to war-driven angles. Campaigns have been banned and sparked fury from communities around the world.

However there are many reasons – this violent activation failed as a PR approach.

The location

Pitt Street’s high traffic strip was selected for this stunt. This enabled the activation to be observed by young children who were visibly upset at the display and would not be able to separate and compute any other message but violence on an innocent pet. It would not just be children who would be disturbed by this act and it could have a profound effect by other members of the community.

The execution

Enacting such a vehement demonstration alienates much of the market. This was an opportunity for PETA to entice a wider circle and win the population currently aligned to veganism. There is heavy doubt that any vegans would endorse the PETA message this way.

In addition, acts of violence (even those that are staged), do not promote against violence – they have the exact opposite effect.

Those that are against animal cruelty and align to PETA for these messages, are likely to have and protect pets. This campaign would have convulsed this audience and shifted their view of PETA for the worse.

The market

While the CBD is a heavily populated location, much of the demographic would be educated on health messages. In fact, the plant-based diet is gaining momentum and Australia is marketed as the third fastest growing vegan market in the world. Australia’s packaged vegan food market is valued at $136 million and forecast to rise to $215 million before 2020. It is also why many of the health food retailers succeed in the city.

The sentiment

The media and public sentiment are irrevocably negative. There’s not a single story that has branded PETA’s act in a positive way. Even the news stories incorporating PETA’s spokesperson has tarnished the organisation and the intent of the campaign has been completely lost.


Leveraging the Australia Day period makes sense as the nation fires up the barbecue, however had PETA portrayed the message more sensitively, it could have won its share of voice more effectively through inoffensive education. Aussies are patriotic around this time and this portrayal is completely misaligned to the culture.

Gaining media exposure is challenging, however gaining coverage at the expense of brand preservation is naïve and destructive.

Nicole Reaney is director of InsideOut PR and founder of influencer agency, #AsSeenOn.


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