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Peta's Struggle for a Super Bowl Ad:

Page history last edited by Jared 12 years, 8 months ago

PETA's Struggle for a Super Bowl Ad


(Relevant background material)


The Super Bowl is considered by many to be a premium gala for advertising companies to strut their stuff. As an annual viewer of the game, each and every company being advertised is at the top of its game concerning the originality, controversy, and allure of their message or product. It has even come to the point where Super Bowl ads have become a phenomenon that overshadows the actual game at hand. Contests and polls are conducted as to which commercial was best or worst and websites are devoted to the ads. People at work the following day overhear discussions of Budweiser frogs or Pepsi ads at the water cooler instead of the score at the half, or the poor call made by the referee. So what better a place to send your message than the Super Bowl? PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, also feel this way apparently as they have struggled to air their message for the past three years, but to no avail. PETA changed the method to their madness several times in hopes of getting their message out to the millions watching. Since 2001, CBS has banned five of their ads, and the question must be raised: What is so threatening about a thirty second commercial that CBS refuses to air it during the Super Bowl, festival of the advertisement?



The first of five ads to be denied by CBS was “Singing Cows”, a thirty second spot featuring several loveable cows and steer with superimposed mouths singing a catchy tune to the viewers. Lyrics such as “Our sweet backsides would like to stay together, we don’t want to be your leather” and “Don’t make me be a glove, a jacket, or a shoe because my skin ain’t for you”, beg of the audience to spare them their lives rather than be killed at the expense of complimenting someone’s outfit or holding their money. The ad closes with the words “Steer clear of cruelty. Don’t buy leather.” This ad was aimed at a general audience since people of all ages are guilty of purchasing shoes, wallets, and purses. Hoping to strike a sentimental chord in viewers, the idea that people would hear these cows imploring to be spared each time they purchased a wallet or other leather product, would hopefully encourage them to put it down, having a domino effect on the leather industry.


The second of PETA’s failed advertisements is “Veggie Holiday” featuring Oscar nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix. This spot was made for the 2001 Holiday season. The ad features Phoenix frolicking throughout the produce section of a supermarket with the cheery sounds of Holiday music resounding through the aisles. Then without warning his expression turns solemn and a slow and depressing funeral dirge begins to play as we see that he has arrived in the turkey section. Dozens of ill-fated birds line the chilled shelves of the freezer and as we, the viewers, are reflecting upon the deceased poultry, Joaquin appears on the pay phone in the store, apparently calling PETA’s hotline, urging us to “call the number, an stop the murder of turkeys”. This spot was probably the most threatening. Here they take a handsome, successful leading actor in efforts to influence their target audience of females preparing to do their holiday food shopping. The cheerful music would encourage these mothers to buy all the produce they need, but when they see those turkeys in person, I’m sure they will see Joaquin begging them to stop the “murder of turkeys”. It is well known that many people have an uncanny sympathy in regards to the mistreatment of animals. The thought of aiding in the “murdering” of turkeys would surely discourage many from purchasing their annual holiday bird. Many of these women may have also gone as far to call the hotline to see what they can do, I mean, even Joaquin cares. These two efforts by PETA were very serious and somber and when they were rejected, they decided to take the cliché, humorous Super Bowl approach to their ads.


The next attempt by PETA, “FixCats.Com”, was denied numerous times between the 2002 and present Super Bowl. This thirty second ad opens with two cats anxiously awaiting the departure of their owner. We see the naïve woman leave her cats with the words “Be good kitties”, unaware of the celebrations about to take place. The cat gives a sly smirk to the camera and the fire is lit and the cats indulge in some serious mating. The clearly mechanized cats mate in an exaggerated manner and take the party all over the house as animals from around the neighborhood watch in delight. After what seems like an eternity of cat sex, the ad finally ends with the words “Over 2.4 million unwanted kittens are born each year…Most will be put to death. It’s a problem you can fix, spay or neuter your cat.” This being said as a cute shot of kittens playing in a soup bowl is shown. “FixCats.Com” is an ad that many people would find funny. But for every beer-drinking man laughing at this ad, there would be a young girl sent crying to her parents to have their cats spayed and neutered in order to save those precious little kittens. By striking such a pressure point in this target audience of young women, it may have even led them to visit PETA’s website which is displayed at the end of the commercial.


Hitting cleanup for PETA was “Rude Foods”, a very sexual and stimulating ad featuring a pair of hands preparing a variety of vegetables for a meal. For thirty seconds we see the sensual handling of these vegetables, building up to the climax of a boiling pot of rice exploding with of course no pun intended. The ad closes with the words “Turn on to Veganism”. The ad, “Rude Foods”, is an explicit look into the preparation of vegetables. The target audience of this commercial is most likely young, sexually charged adults and teenagers. PETA is seemingly trying to convince these wild and crazy kids with a large sexual appetite that eating your veggies instead of meat will turn you and your partner on even more. The end of the ad features the words “Turn on to Veganism”. These words are written in a script like font that adds to the sexual feeling of the ad. Many will visit the website in order to research this theory and see if it has any credibility to it.



The most recent victim of CBS’s axe was the sixty second “Meat/Impotence” spot. This ad is a satire of the filming of a seventies porn film. The ad opens with two women having a pillow fight while awaiting the arrival of the pizza delivery man, a very suggesting message to begin a commercial. When the man arrives, one woman says “The pizzas here” in a very provocative manner, while the delivery guy says “Yea with extra sausage, as the camera zooms in on an obvious bulge in his extremely short shorts. Immediately the pizza is tossed to the side and the threesome takes the party out of sight behind the couch. Suddenly the giggling ceases and one of the girls stands up and says “Hey what happened to the sausage!” followed by the man looking down at his crotch, unsure and embarrassed. Five takes of this scene are filmed before the words “Meat can cause impotence” are flashed on screen, followed by the women finding satisfaction in the new delivery man, a grocery store employee. This final ad is surely aimed at teenage boys across America. Nowadays it is no secret that adolescent boys are obsessed with sex, and are very curious about how to go about it. I’m sure the focus of this ad was to strike fear into their hearts when they see that all the meat they have been eating since they were young may be leading to sexual inadequacies. Imagine how quickly these teens would put down the burger, in fear of hurting their performance. If the two hot girls on the commercial dig the guy with veggies, I better lose the meat.


Each of these ads was successful in the element of pathos, establishing an emotional connection with the target audience. PETA knew the right subjects to touch upon in order to spark their anti-meat revolution. These ads were successful in getting their message across because obviously CBS felt threatened by them. Afraid to air these ads, the station had good right to believe that PETA’s message would weigh heavily on the minds of the target audiences. If CBS did not think they would be taken seriously, they would have sold the time slots for the ads and made even more than the amount already taken in during the Super Bowl and during the holidays. CBS had several reasons to fall back as to why they wouldn’t want to air these commercials. The obvious being the poor taste in which the most recent three were done. It is known fact that many families, including children, watch the Super Bowl together. Besides initiating uncomfortable silences, these commercials could cause children to bombard their parents with unwanted questions such as: “What are the cats doing?” and “What does impotent mean?” In regards to the first two ads, CBS has the old offensive fall back. Calling people “murderers” for eating their Christmas turkey and labeling people “cruel” for buying leather will surely offend people, as would any other public statement about any product being advertised, which is why it is hard to believe that these are the reasons that they were banned, since the Super Bowl has thrived on many more controversial commercials than can be accounted for.


The real reason as stated above is that CBS felt threatened by the spark of these advertisements. They knew PETA had a very persuasive and convincing power in all five of these ads which would counter the messages of a great majority of other game ads. The Super Bowl’s audience is mainly men, manly men eating burgers, steaks, and nachos. What would happen if these commercials actually got to them? Game day profits in many restaurants would suffer greatly and I’m sure CBS would hear about it. It is well known that the station airs commercials for many big-time names such as Subway, Quiznos, George Foreman Grill, Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King, A1 Steak Sauce, and more. These names are obviously larger and more popular than PETA, so CBS made the decision to stay on their good side, and reject PETA. The loss suffered by the station if all of these names backed out after seeing “anti-meat” ads would be far greater than if PETA is denied one ad per year.


These five ads were effective enough for CBS to outright ban them? After years and years of airing each commercial for every product known to man, this popular station actually saw consequences lurking on the horizon if these advertisements were ever aired. PETA changed from serious and merciless to satirical and provocative in hopes of making a Super Bowl worthy commercial. But what led to their demise wasn’t the manner in which these commercials were made, but the message they sent. PETA’s stance against the mistreatment of animals was so effective and convincing, that CBS and the Super Bowl refused to air it in fear of an unwanted backlash from other advertising big shots. I mean after all, if I don’t want to be a turkey murderer, neither does Subway, and if I don’t want to suffer from sexual impotence, neither does George Foreman.


Works used:

"Meat/Impotence." Advertisement. IFILM Corp. ifilm.com.

http://www.ifilm.com/ifilmcollection/0/841. 20 September 2004.


"Rude Food." Advertisement. IFILM Corp. ifilm.com.

http://www.ifilm.com/ifilmcollection/0/841. 20 September 2004.


"FixCats.com." Advertisement. IFILM Corp. ifilm.com.

http://www.ifilm.com/ifilmcollection/0/841. 20 September 2004.


"Veggie Holiday." Advertisement. IFILM Corp. ifilm.com.

http://www.ifilm.com/ifilmcollection/0/841. 20 September 2004.


"Singing Cows." Advertisement. IFILM Corp. ifilm.com.

http://www.ifilm.com/ifilmcollection/0/841. 20 September 2004.


Comments (2)

perrinatisha said

at 6:24 pm on Sep 11, 2011

This was probably the best example that interested me. The group PETA is clearly trying to send out good messages to the general public and trying to change their viewpoints about these precious animals, but you have to look it at in the eyes of CBS. Some people watch the Superbowl for the commercials and advertisements, I'm one of them. People who are laughing and having a good time are not going to want to gear their attention to a sad and life changing ad. There are ads being shown about major restaurants and to show an ad about not killing these animals is simply a contradiction and only makes CBS look bad. It's all about money and how to make it. People will try any way to make sure they have it even if it means not doing whats right.

Jared said

at 8:56 am on Sep 12, 2011

Hi Perrin,

Nice post on the Peta ad analysis. I like the way you extend the analysis of the ad's audience and suggest that PETA's rhetorical choices may have been misguided in this situation because, although they try to mimic 'super-bowl strategies,' this is not enough to mask or take away from the seriousness (or 'solemness' as the author says) of the ad. The result is a strategy which may 'backfire' in respect to some of these good intentions you mention. I also like the way you start a segment of a different sort of 'contextual analysis' here when you gesture towards CBS's perspective, extending the author's points on the banning of these ads...

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