What Is PETA?

Definition & Examples of What PETA Does

Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey Circus Holds Final Show
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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), is an animal rights organization that was started in the U.S. and has since spread internationally. The group engages in multiple types of activism, including legal challenges, public relations campaigns, and education outreach.

Learn more about this group and how they spread their anti-animal abuse message.

What Is PETA?

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claims to be the largest animal rights organization in the world. It counts more than 6.5 million people around the world among its members and supporters. The group uses many tactics to push its agenda of reducing animal suffering. These tactics include pursuing legal cases, promoting vegan diets, and running ad campaigns against fur clothing.

  • Acronym: PETA

PETA slogans like "meat is murder" and "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" are widespread—so if you've encountered those phrases, you know a little bit about what PETA does.

How Does PETA Work?

PETA works at reducing animal cruelty by keeping a consistent message across a wide variety of formats and outreach efforts. The group isn't just trying just to do one thing. PETA raises concerns on all sorts of issues, from the conditions at slaughterhouses to the methods used to kill animals for their fur, to the way cosmetic and drug companies use animals to tests their products.

PETA's history stretched back to at least the early '80s when it brought a case before the Supreme Court. That case helped set a new standard for the way animals are treated in laboratories. Other cases and campaigns have resulted in felony charges against factory farm workers, renovations to the way oil companies design their exhaust stacks, and welfare improvements for animals that eventually make their way into food products at major chains like McDonald's, Burger King, and Albertsons.

PETA's tactics include in-depth, substantive debates on the issues, as well as rapid-fire short messages, images, and publicity stunts that are designed to be more eye-catching style than substance.

Everything they do is under the umbrella message of treating animals as more than objects to be used. Unlike most groups with a narrow audience, they are trying to speak to every person. However, their strategies vary depending on who they're trying to target.

Targeting Audiences Around the World

PETA wants to reach beyond American consumers to influence everyday consumers around the world. Many cultures eat meat and wear fur, so those PETA messages translate across national borders. It's fairly easy for the group to apply similar advertising and PR campaigns in multiple countries.

Targeting Businesses 

PETA targets businesses with pressure campaigns, both public and private. These efforts try to get businesses to change the ways they treat animals. In some cases, they're pushing for minor changes. Many companies now advertise their products as not being tested on animals, and PETA played a role in that cultural shift.

In other cases, they're pushing hard against the premise of entire industries like the fur trade. Businesses that are dependent upon fur products are less willing to work with PETA than businesses that can easily change their processes without sacrificing their entire business model. However, that doesn't stop PETA from trying.

Targeting Lawmakers 

PETA also pushes for legal reforms, which means trying to persuade lawmakers. In other words, they engage in lobbying. They may not be the largest lobbying force on Capitol Hill, but they do make efforts to change laws to reflect their mission of reducing animal cruelty.

Targeting Mass Media 

PETA has several strategies for getting coverage in mass media outlets. It isn't easy, but it's possible to gain the attention of these outlets. However, they're constantly flooded with news releases and pitches, so PETA has to get creative. Publicity stunts that have an element of shock may attract media outlets.

Celebrity power can also help. By using models, musicians, athletes, and actors as the subjects of their PR campaigns, PETA generates buzz from fans of those celebrities. Magazines, blogs, and TV shows are more likely to cover PR campaigns when they know there's a built-in audience that will tune in to hear from a celebrity.

Key Takeaways

  • People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is an animal rights organization with an international reach.
  • PETA's earliest efforts focused on legal challenges to animal treatment in the U.S., but they have since broadened their mission to include multi-pronged outreach efforts.
  • A popular way for PETA to attract attention to their PR campaigns is to include celebrities.