Badvertising: Be My Vegan Valentine?

In this installment of MarketSmiths’ Badvertising we look at BWVAKTBOOM: “Boyfriend Went Vegan and Knocked the Bottom out of Me,” a condition that combines veganism with sexual prowess, and throws in battered women for good measure. As usual, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!

PETA’s Odd Virile Vegan Ad

PETA isn’t known for subtlety. But for Valentine’s Day 2012, it reached the nadir of questionable taste with a controversial TV ad that appeared to promote both the ethical treatment of animals and the mistreatment women.

The spot opens with Jessica, a bedraggled and bruised woman wearing a neck brace, as she shuffles down the street, making her painful way home. A voice-over tells us that she is suffering from BWVAKTBOOM: “Boyfriend Went Vegan and Knocked the Bottom out of Me,” a condition that happens after boyfriends go vegan and then suddenly possess the super sexual tantric strength of, like, ten Stings.

We see the poor thing limp upstairs and toss a bag of celery to her (rather anemic-looking) boyfriend who is plastering a hole in the wall—one presumably caused by her head after one of his vegan-fueled sexcapades. “Oh, you’re feeling better?” he squeaks. Jessica gives a sly smile, indicating that she is, and perhaps is also ready for another go. The narrator then directs viewers to BWVAKTBOOM.com for further info. HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

Unsurprisingly, media critics felt that the ad—and especially the website—crossed a line:

“PETA successfully ruins Valentine’s Day,” said Jezebel’s Anna North.

“It’s kind of like abuse,” wrote Laura Weisman of the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Go to BWVAKTBOOM.com and prepare to have your blood boil,” said the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The debate followed the predictable pattern. Complaints roll in, and PETA pushed back. Lisa Lange, a senior vice president for PETA, claimed that the ad was tongue-in-cheek. “People who watch the ad all the way through see the woman has a mischievous smile. It’s playful.”

When asked about the possibility of it sending a bad message to women, PETA replied: “The underlying message is a helpful one. Going vegan can lead to an increase in energy and sexual stamina.”  Sure. Potato potahto.

Ignoring for just a moment the ethics of the ad, when any good marketing maven considers that the campaign was online only—launched from PETA’s website—and immediately went viral (almost 2 million YouTube views in as many days); that it was the subject of countless blog posts, articles, opinion pieces and chat room rants – one can’t help but admire the reach and return.

For its part, PETA president and founder Ingrid Newkirk was delighted with the controversy and debate (and free press) that the commercial generated—however their execution here does beg the question: what does “cruelty-free” truly mean?

Jim recalls a priceless piece of advice that an English teacher once gave him. Throwing a dictionary onto his desk he said, “All of the words are in there, Yoakum, just put them in the right order.” Putting the right words in the right order has been Jim’s goal ever since, and he has honed his skills over the years to include award-winning copywriting, the scripting of three produced movies, the authoring of numerous novels and non-fiction books—and even a stint as writing partners with the late Graham Chapman of Monty Python fame. He is also US Curator of Chapman’s archives. To make himself even more insufferable, Jim has also produced comedy CDs and DVDs. While Jim does not lament his misspent youth, playing drums in a rock ‘n’ roll band, he does however wish he had back all of those brain cells that he ruthlessly killed.

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Digital by MadPipe. Photography by Chellise Michael.

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