If I ever thought someone was in the wrong, it is surely the PETA offensive last week against Vodafone and its featuring of its famous pug(s) as brand ambassadors. I completely disagree with PETA. I think they are just publicity hungry and their campaign is both ill-informed, and in bad taste.
PETA – People for Ethical Treatment of Animals – sent out a letter to Vodafone India Chief Executive Officer Sunil Sood, saying pugs are “not normal dogs” and are “always in pain” because they are a genetically compromised species with exaggerated features developed through breeding. Specifically, PETA CEO Manilal Valliyate said, “These dogs have become popular in India, thanks largely to your commercials, and are purchased by people who are usually unaware that they’re severely compromised genetically by being bred for unnatural traits, such as tiny flat noses, bulging eyes, and folds of skin”.
Is PETA’s rant new or novel? Is PETA lashing out at a corporate body for the first time? No, no, no. PETA in fact, by its own admission, has always used shock tactics and controversial messaging to get across its point. The PETA website itself states:
“PETA’s mission is to get the animal rights message out to as many people as possible. Unlike our opposition—which is mostly composed of wealthy industries and corporations—PETA must rely largely on free “advertising” through media coverage. We will do extraordinary things to get the word out about animal cruelty because we have learned from experience that the media, sadly, do not consider the terrible facts about animal suffering alone interesting enough to cover. It is sometimes necessary to shake people up in order to initiate discussion, debate, questioning of the status quo, and, of course, action.
Thus, we try to make our actions colorful and controversial, thereby grabbing headlines around the world and spreading the message of kindness to animals to thousands—sometimes millions—of people. This approach has proved amazingly successful: In the three decades since PETA was founded, it has grown into the largest animal rights group in the country, with more than 6.5 million members and supporters worldwide. We have also had major groundbreaking successes, such as bringing about the first-ever cruelty conviction against an animal experimenter in the case of the now-famous Silver Spring Monkeys; orchestrating the first-ever raid on an agricultural facility (a factory farm in upstate New York that raised ducks for foie gras under horribly cruel conditions); and convincing more than 200 cosmetics companies to permanently abandon animal tests”.
In a manner of speaking PETA admits that its tactics are actually corporate blackmail. Perhaps ethical blackmail, but blackmail nevertheless.
I am the proud owner of Jambo, a pug. He came into my life 13 years ago on my eleventh birthday. I am not sure if my father who is also in advertising bought him as a birthday gift for me under the influence of the Voda ad. But between Jambo and me, it was love-at-first-sight. Jambo had a ‘tiny flat nose, bulging eyes, and folds of skin’. PETA was right. But they were also right in saying that the little pug nestled in my lap was ‘not a normal dog’. He was, and is, the greatest joy of my life. My best friend. And one thing I can tell PETA CEO Valliyate is that Jambo, my pug, is contrary to his belief never ‘in pain’. Jambo is fun. He is full of life. Full of pranks. His bulging eyes are full of love and playfulness. The folds of skin are just fun to cuddle. And Jambo’s tiny flat nose is more beautiful than that of any Miss Universe.
Vodafone introduced Cheeka, the lovable pug, in 2003. Many great renditions of this campaign have been seen ever since. The latest version with about 30 pugs running through a village, was on-air recently. PETA feels, “No animal should be subjected to the chaos, loud noises, bright lights, and countless retakes on a commercial set just to sell a product”. I may agree with that. But Jambo does not. He is a natural before the camera. And can give professional models some good competition! Just because you have dogs in your ad does not mean 1. they are being ill-treated 2. someone is being cruel to them 3. there is chaos at every shoot 4. the bright lights are blinding the dogs. The PETA concerns are over-wrought and unnecessarily hyper.
I think PETA just used the Voda campaign to push its agenda, no more no less. The Voda pugs became a good, and convenient excuse for PETA to pontificate. Refer back to the PETA website, and it is easy to understand their motives and their tactics.
Also, my fundamental disagreement with PETA stems from one more basic issue. There is so much cruelty against women in our society. Does that mean that brands should not use women in ads? The PETA argument about cruelty to animals and about desisting from using them in ads is completely specious.
I think PETA is completely wrong in maligning the pug as a species. "Pugs' flat faces make them prone to brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome, causing them commonly to snort and snore as they struggle to breathe, and they are especially susceptible to heatstroke and thus suffer greatly in India's humid climate," PETA claims. "Pugs are genetically compromised, typically inbred, and commonly sick dogs who gasp and wheeze in India's hot climate”. Jambo has been with me 13 years now. Sure he gets a bit sweaty and uncomfortable when we return from a jog in the hot, humid Mumbai summer (don’t we all?). But there is nothing extra-ordinary in his breathing. Labradors and Golden Retrievers in our building gasp and wheeze far more than him. The PETA campaign is just pure exaggeration. Pugs are normal. Normal as any other dog. And Vodafone’s campaign has not got them to snort or snore any more than any other dog.
I love Jambo. I love Cheeka. And I love the 30 pugs in the Vodafone ad. Mr. Sunil Sood, don’t succumb to any of PETA’s pressure. Give us more of the pug in your campaigns. Both Jambo and I will love you all the more for it.
PETA may find using controversy a good way to grab headlines. They may also find it serving their purpose to make their actions colorful and controversial. But to my mind this kind of approach is actually counterproductive. Apart from this pug controversy, I am a PETA supporter because I love animals. But blackmail is blackmail and while PETA may find it colorful, I just find it abominable.
(Carol Goyal writes on a variety of subjects. But this one on PETA and Jambo is straight from the heart.)