The pitch seems simple enough: “Film a shocking video that hits the emotions of online viewers. Get it to go viral. Watch as online outrage ensues. Release a second video that shows that the original was staged to highlight the cause you support.”
This may not stand out as anything worrisome, but PETA recently used this model for a marketing campaign…and it backfired, drastically. Why would such a seemingly simple proposal cause such backlash? There are three main reasons this didn’t work the way PETA and their PR team planned.
Not All Gambles Pay Off
First and foremost, releasing this hoax as two separate videos was not a wise move. Sure, the first video captured audiences’ attention. People talked about the shocking nature of its content, so shocked that they debated the video’s legitimacy. But not all press is good press, and getting a video to go viral is a gamble. The second video didn’t exactly make the same rounds or garner the same popularity. What that means is that some people went on believing original video was real.
In the short term, fooling your audience can generate a ton of video shares. But no one enjoys the feeling of being wrong, so you’re likely to alienate the people whose support you need most. Many clickbait websites rely on website traffic, so this tactic works well for them. However, they rarely have a solid call to action that beseeches viewers to donate or get involved in a cause. PETA, on the other hand, relies heavily on donations, and sowing distrust in donors did not reap any benefits.
An audience who rightly feels lied to can really hurt how people see your brand. It is one thing to discover that your favorite clothing company lies to consumers. It is drastically more devastating uncovering a lie from an organization solely focused on compassion. What’s worse: PETA could have avoided this backlash by coming clean at the end of the video. Having the “reveal” at the end of the video salvages the trust of the audience and brings a level of genuine care to your message. Misleading the audience is a dangerous, unwise move for an organization to make.
A Sincere Insincerity
Another detail that illuminates the insincerity out of this approach is the fact that there is a firm working to get the video to go viral. A recent mashable article, discloses that an agency approached the website about pushing PETA’s latest video. This is not uncommon, but it is a cheap ploy. Once the audience knows that a company is pushing for more views, it sucks all genuineness from a video’s buzz.
One Word: Manipulative
The shocking content of this video is also largely to blame for its failure. The main action of the video is very violent and involves a cute little cat. This hits home because our entire society is obsessed with cat videos, so it gives pause to anyone who enjoys them. Meaning just about everyone I know.
No one wants to believe they are responsible, even indirectly, for violence, especially toward an adorable animal. PETA regularly uses shocking “expose” style videos to evoke these feelings in viewers and, in turn, convince them to get involved. But most people I’ve spoken to simply avoid these manipulative videos, and as a result distrust the organization.
Was Reaching Viral Status Really Worth It?
After watching the video, I see the message PETA attempted to convey. But regardless of intent, the video left me feeling alienated rather than motivated to do something about helping large cats. At least that’s what I assume their call to action was. I do believe the animation was executed well, but it definitely didn’t get me running to my wallet for a donation. PETA has a record of using shocking videos to get their point across, so it must be working for them. However, in a world full of fake news, I’m not likely to trust them anymore. Whether they are truthful or not, enough is enough. And when you starting losing the trust of once fervent supporters, well, that doesn’t seem like an ideal place for an organization to be.
DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not necessarily represent those of ECG Productions. I firmly believe in PETA’s overarching mission and am an avid supporter of animal rights.