The Fur Police 

 

The Anti-Ad Campaign of the Month: PETA's Members Target Vogue, Using Blood and Intestines as Ammunition 
By Anna Sophie Loewenberg 

 

When PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) started its campaign against Vogue for flaunting fur on the magazine’s pages, the organization didn’t anticipate the lengths to which some of its members would go to get the message to Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, that fur is not fashionable.

In December 1997, a group of activists painted bloody footprints on the sidewalk leading to Wintour’s Manhattan home, and left a pool of blood at her doorstep. Shortly after, the activists, calling themselves the "Paint Panthers," promptly left a message on the PETA answering machine claiming responsibility for the action. Earlier that year, another animal rights activist dumped a dead raccoon on Wintour’s plate while she was dining with friends in a restaurant. In April 2000, Freda Fox, a PETA member, delivered a package of maggot-infested animal innards to Wintour’s office. She later called PETA, identifying herself and explaining, "Anna stole this animal’s skin and his life, she might as well have his guts," a PETA press release quotes Fox as saying.

"Very often, people feel so strongly that they take action on their own," said Joey Penello, a correspondent at PETA. He said that often no one is caught or charged by the police, but that the media hear that the activists are PETA members and assumes that PETA is responsible. And although the organization did not plan these protests against Vogue, PETA proudly reports the terrorizing activities of its members in press releases on its Web site.

PETA is just one of the organizations expressing its outrage over offensive advertisements in magazines. Others include ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), and Commercial Alert, both of which spend their time and resources protesting the power that magazine advertisements have on shaping the buying habits of millions of American consumers.

The ASH Web site criticizes cigarette ads that are aimed at people of color. Grievances include glossy images of a geisha smoking Virginia Slims or menthols just for blacks in multiple-page ads in magazines like People, Marie Claire, Essence, Latina and Home Journal.

Commercial Alert, a national family network whose mission is to protect children and communities from commercialism, advertising and marketing, also has a Web site, as well as letter writing campaigns. "So much of our advertising is done by corporate felons," says Gary Ruskin, the director of Commercial Alert. He names Cosmopolitan, Girl Teen, People and WM, as some of the "worst" magazines which portray negative images of women for the eyes of young adults.

While most of these organizations have little power compared to that of the magazine industry, organizations like PETA are gaining public attention. PETA supporters include movie stars Pamela Anderson, Sandra Bernhard and Woody Harrelson, all of whom have signed PETA anti-fur petitions aimed at Vogue. According to Penello, other fashion magazines such as Cosmopolitan have responded well to pressure from PETA and discontinued advertisements and fashion spreads using furs, but Vogue won’t budge. So the Vogue campaign has now become more personal, focused on Wintour. "Through our publicity, we’ve been able to show what kind of a person Anna Wintour is," said Penello. "She is the type of person who would throw on fur just to get the mail," he said.

Both Wintour and Patrick O’Connell, a publicist at the magazine, refused to comment on their relationship with PETA. The animal rights organization claims to have failed in its attempts to talk to Wintour face-to-face. Penello said that PETA tried to place its own advertisement in Vogue, but that it was rejected.

PETA focuses its energy on putting together celebrity fund-raisers, tracking offensive advertisements using animals, and organizing letter-writing campaigns. According to Anna West, a PETA correspondent who logs phone complaints about offensive advertising, PETA receives about 700,000 calls annually. West then encourages members to write to magazines and advertisers directly, and she lists the worst advertisements on the PETA Web site.

"It is not always the most blatantly cruel ads, the ones that are meant to shock people, that we target," West said. "We also focus on the more subtle advertisements." For example, this year PETA plans to target a Wamsutta advertisement that features a woman writing a Christmas list that has "give away kittens."

As with most organizations defying the pressures of consumerism and the advertising culture, PETA has found that its most powerful tactic is to let its members take their own action. "We do try to plan things and get creative," Penello said. "Maybe we’ll suggest that members place a PETA sticker on anyone wearing a fur coat, but a PETA member goes out with a paintbrush and paints all over Joan Rivers’s fur coat." &

 

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