Long before Occupy Wall Street took over the press (and hundreds of cities), PETA was showing the young 'uns how it's done. Constantly grabbing the headlines with in-your-face advertising and local stunts, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals organization was building its brand of provocative branding.
They're still at it, of course. Just this week, PETA sued SeaWorld in Orlando for "enslaving" Orca whales; called for a ban on private ownership of exotic animals in the wake of the Zanesville tragedy; asked director Cameron Crowe to tame the marketing for his upcoming movie, We Bought a Zoo; offered a $5,000 reward to document animal abuses at a Toledo circus and $1,000 for information in a puppy mutilation case; and dispatched zombies to protest a steakhouse in Cincinnati and promote veganism.
They've also been lobbying NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg to address the situation of carriage horses dropping dead in the streets, a black eye for Big Apple tourism that PETA asked Glee star Lea Michele to address in a PSA earlier this year. And of course, there's its long-running cheeky series of stripping celebs protesting fur.
The latest "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur" campaign features Atlanta Falcon Tony Gonzalez and his wife, October. And speaking of birds, an incident last month also engaged sports fans (and enraged others), an interesting case study in how PETA works.
Before each Auburn University home football game, a live eagle is let loose in the stadium. It soars gracefully around the stadium, looking down over the crowd until it lands at midfield, where its trainer awaits.
Last month, though, one of the birds, Spirit, took matters into his own talons and inexplicably took a right-hand turn that took him directly into the window of a luxury box. He recovered fine and has checked out medically, according to USA Today. Plus, Spirit’s wayward flight didn’t bring bad luck to the defending national champs. The Auburn Tigers won anyway 41-34.
However, medical clearance or not, the sudden national attention on Spirit attracted the eagle eye of PETA's response team. They asked Auburn “do away with live animal performances at school functions,” according to the Opelika-Auburn News.
Lindsay Pollard-Post, a PETA rep, points out that college football games aren’t exactly the best places for live animals to be hanging out: “The screaming fans, air horns, music and booming sound systems of sports games can be stressful, terrifying and disorienting for animals,” Pollard-Post said in a letter. “If given the choice, bald eagles make their homes near lakes, rivers and quiet forests, far away from human disturbance.”
PETA asked that Auburn’s birds be retired to a sanctuary but Jamie Bellah, director of the raptor center the university, notes that Spirit has a damaged beak that makes him non-releasable, OANow reports.
“The eagles are important in our mission to educate the public about conservation,” Bellah said in a statement. “We certainly respect others’ opinions about our center and the birds of prey that reside here. We operate as part of Auburn University, where our raptor demonstrations, including our eagles, are conducted under the guidance and inspections of the USDA and others.
In addition, the center cares for and exhibits the eagles with the approval of an Eagle Exhibition Permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This permit allows the eagles to be presented in flighted and non-flighted programs that provide outreach within the university setting and for the general public.”
It's just another example of a non-profit brand that manages to keep its fingers (paws, claws and fins) in numerous causes and situations, building an instantly recognizable brand of activism in the process.