Do Offensive Advertisements Work?

peta-save-whales-billboard The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, commonly known by its acronym PETA, has stirred up a hornet’s nest of publicity with one of its billboards. The billboard is located in Jacksonville, Florida and features an overweight woman with the caption, “Save the whales. Lose the blubber: Go vegetarian.” Since the billboard debuted, there has been much criticism lobbied at PETA.

One blogger declares, “Well, you’ve got our attention, PETA.” She goes on to write, “And we are reminded why we don’t like you. It’s not funny to make fun of people’s weight problems, and to assert you know why they’re occurring is wrong-headed and judgmental and, well, just like you.”

Another blogger writes, “The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an animal rights organization, has really done it this time. It has obviously stepped out-of-line and doesn’t seem to know the difference between animals and women.” She adds, “PETA should stick to its Mission Statement regarding saving animals and leave exploiting women to Hugh Hefner.”

PETA’s response to the backlash against its billboard is to point out that it is trying to help obese people. PETA released a press release that quoted Tracy Reiman, PETA’s executive vice president, as saying, “Trying to hide your thunder thighs and balloon belly is no day at the beach. PETA has a free Vegetarian Starter Kit for people who want to lose pounds while eating as much as they like.”

Ashley Byrne, a senior campaigner for PETA, said, “Our goal is to help overweight Jacksonville residents — the best way to do that is to go vegetarian. We’re not trying to insult anyone…This is a lifesaving message. If the billboard is shocking, hopefully it will get people’s attention, and help them improve quality of life for themselves and their families…it’s designed to help people.”

Is offensive advertising really effective? In 1994, Jerry W. Thomas of Decision Analyst pointed out, in a white paper titled, Advertising Research: “Advertising which offends the viewer, or is in poor taste, is almost always ineffective.” Former president of the American Advertising Federation, Wally Snyder, asks: “But how can we conclude that a potential customer angered by advertising will purchase the brand?” Or in PETA’s case, listen to the message.

Responding to a PETA advertisement in 2007 that depicted Al Gore as not being a true environmentalist because he eats meat, Keith Akers of the website wrote that PETA’s assumption that all publicity is good, “may not be true.” Akers continued, “At some point, people will write you off no matter what you say.”


According to Akers, a mood shift is occurring in the U.S. Although Americans have always valued individualism, now “there is the growing (and accurate) perception that individualism has been taken too far — that we do not need people to stir things up even more.” Akers characterizes PETA’s advertisements as the “individualist approach of trying to disrupt things to get attention.”

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

24 responses

  1. I totally lost weight when I stopped being a vegetarian (10 years on the wagon). Theoretically vegetarianism is healthier, but grilled cheese and pizza ain’t.

  2. That’s probably one of the *least* offensive PETA stunts I’ve seen. I’m not a big fan of their antics, but this one is actually pretty funny. I’m happy to see political correctness challenged… there are many, far more offensive advertisements around us all the time that don’t have a good cause behind them – just watch any beer commercial.

  3. Nick, I respectfully disagree with you. It’s one of the most offensive ads I’ve seen. Although I am not overweight, I immediately thought about how an overweight woman feels looking at it. I don’t find it funny to refer to a woman as an animal, or to laugh at someone else’s expense. I have friends who are in the midst of losing weight. I hope they have not seen that ad. It would hurt them deeply.

    I’m not a fan of politically correct, but I think it is cruel to belittle people to make a point or get a laugh. Food addiction is a real problem and people battling it need compassion, not cruelty.

  4. This ad really does work – I never gave much thought to PETA before, but now I’ve looked them up and found out they euthanize thousands of pets every year, they do not disclose their expenses to independent charity watchdogs,and that they fund environmental terrorism. Be sure I’ll pass that information on to as many people as I can.

      1. No, PETA really does euthanize vast numbers of animals. One of the countless reasons why they are an all-around bad organization.

        It makes me really angry that they are the most well known animal rights group around. While PETA is busy giving vegetarians and vegans a bad name, there are countless individuals and organizations doing amazing things in the name of animal rights.

  5. All I have to say is I absolutly LOVE this billboard. Now I am not saying that you should become a vegitarian but I am saying that you shouldn’t take it offensive and that this ad is showing that it’s not okay to be FAT and most overweight people are those who eat meat ALL the time. Your right vegitarians can be fat too but those are the ones who are eating just junk foods pretty much all startches and carbs I call them “Statchetarian” and this is not healthy.
    LOVE this ad.

    1. Most overweight people don’t eat meat excessively. Their weight problem stems from eating too much junk food, mainly sweets.

      I think it says much about our society that we think it is okay to shame people who have a problem. Shaming people does not work. People who are overweight need compassion.

  6. You people are being absolutely insane. I don’t know what planet you were brought into life on, but on this one being obese is not something that should be defended and acceptable. I know. I once was overweight and felt guilty about it daily. Simply turn on the television that you love so much and look. The actors/ actresses that are revered in society are an example of the values instilled in that society. And they are almost always skinny. PETA is simply illustrating a value in our society that shows our obvious disregard for obesity. Are you not offended by the term “obesity epidemic” which coincidentally illustrates that obesity is a problem? Epidemic means something spreading that is unwanted and needs a cure. Unless you enjoy waddling in disease…

    1. The point I am making is not that obesity is good, because it is very unhealthy, but that it is cruel and insensitive to liken a woman to an animal. Bottom line is that it is sexist, and I doubt PETA would ever call an overweight man an animal.

      Rudeness is gross and it is an epidemic in our society.

  7. Im sorry but I find the ad very offensive. There are alot of people that are overweight due to medical reasons and medications they need to take. Others just live unhealthy lifestyles. You need excercise and need to eat food in mederation. You cant just stick to veggies.

  8. If PETA euthanized large numbers of pets and/or animals, would us meat eaters get a crack at them afterwards? Also, in regards to the ‘whale’ ad, wouldn’t it be prudent for PETA to acknowledge that most overweight people have internal struggles that have nothing to do with healthy eating habits – vegetarian or meat eating – but more to do with some psychology that is out of whack? Lastly, if we lose the blubber then haven’t we lost the whales too?
    signed, concerned-citizen-who-eats-a-healthy-diet-that-includes-meat-occasionally.

  9. OK another reason to mock fat people. Anser me this … would they have dared to put a picture of someone of color? It is my biz if I am heavy? I am a animal lover and right now a ex-supper of PETA!!

  10. Wow, I’m stunned. As an animal LOVER and supporter of the Humane Society, I get solicitations from PETA all the time in the mail. I’ve never given them any support, because I’ve heard of their extreme tactics and that if it were their wish… we would not be allowed to even have pets. I love my babies, dogs, who are spoiled and loved and well taken care of. The fact that they would ridicule someone to get their point across is offensive and frankly pisses me off. Obesity is an epidemic, but, our society perpetuates it with it’s fast food and instant everything. AND I agree, would they have put someone of color up there or of an alternate sexual orientation. It has been scientifically supported that obesity is a genetic problem. Can someone who has this problem be blamed for it any more than someone who is born a certain color or sex? Yes, it’s unhealthy, but it’s not as simple as eating vegetables and trying hard. Educate yourself before you stick your foot in it PETA!

  11. Peta thinks that pets are better off dead than in homes where they are cared for as family members. All animals would just wander about undisturbed. They say we shouldn’t use insulin from horses to stay alive, but there are diabetic peta board members who do. Hypocrites with no hearts. Spoiled brats

  12. I think everyone is missing an essential point on this. Ok PETA is people for the ethical treatment of ANIMALS. Why exactly are they trying to make america slim down? What concern do they have with obesity. There are obese vegetarians. Maybe they should stick to animals instead of people. And besides I don’t know very many people that eat whale on a regular basis. If they are targeting meat eating obese people wouldn’t they have used cows?

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