Campaigns from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have been notable for their shock value, featuring, for instance, pictures of dismembered chickens and cows. ("Do you want fries with that?" asks one of their more gruesome efforts.) But that has changed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as PETA and other nonprofit groups have adjusted their strategies.
"We have had to go from shaking things up in a complacent society to toning things down," said Ingrid E. Newkirk, president of PETA, which has gone after the fur industry, drug makers and fast-food restaurants. All the more so, she said, because PETA is based in Norfolk, Va., home to many of the sailors who have recently been sent to sea in connection with the strikes in Afghanistan.
So PETA has gone patriotic, producing an ad featuring Kimberly Hefner, a buxom former Playboy playmate who is Hugh Hefner's estranged wife. Dressed in red, white and blue, she mimics Uncle Sam in the famous World War I poster by James Montgomery Flagg, though with considerably more décolletage in evidence. "I want you to go vegetarian," Ms. Hefner exhorts. Below her image is the PETA logo and a reference to a Web site, GoVeg.com, where "recruiting" is said to be taking place.
The ad will appear next week as a full-color, full-page cutout poster in Stars and Stripes, the armed forces newspaper. Thereafter, it will be submitted as a public service announcement to various magazines that have donated space to PETA before. It will also be available on the Internet, said Ms. Newkirk, thus making it a true 21st-century equivalent of the pinups of years past.
Why the use of cheesecake by a group that normally eschews dairy products? "We've always had fun with our ads when we could," Ms. Newkirk said, acknowledging the tongue-in-cheek aspect of the ad. Instead of "using confrontation to get attention," she added, "we now think that people are looking for something more positive."
PETA officials are not alone in sensing that public sentiment. Many of the nonprofit organizations that do not provide disaster relief have changed their advertising and direct- marketing strategies at least somewhat in response to the events of Sept. 11. Without overtly wrapping themselves in the flag, something that offends many Americans, they are appealing to what they call basic American principles.
"We have been relying more on our core values of serving women and families," said Jim Minow, vice president for development for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, "and moving our message away from political rancor."
"Patriotism is in the forefront of people's minds," he said. "They don't want to focus on divisive political issues."
Similarly, the American Cancer Society has deferred a series of ads that focused on women with newly diagnosed cases of breast cancer. The series had been scheduled for October, which was Breast Cancer Awareness month. "We used ads instead that stressed survivorship," said Greg Donaldson, a spokesman for the group's national office in New York. "Their tone is much more aspirational and celebratory, and it reflects the mood of the country people coming together at a community level."
Even the Nature Conservancy has made some changes, at least in scheduling. Although its campaigns always feature natural spaces, the organization began running a new spot in a few test markets for a week or so after Sept. 11, one that "was all about families and that shows a place that stays the same even as generations go by," said Nancy Crozier, the Nature Conservancy's director of brand marketing. That spot is now alternating with ads that were running before the attacks.
"In a time when people are questioning the value of lives and families," Ms. Crozier said, "our advertising is almost like an oasis."
Have the changes been effective? Despite widespread early reports of a precipitous drop in donations to nonprofit groups that are not providing disaster services, Ms. Crozier and the others said it was "too soon to tell" about the outcome of their current fund-raising efforts and whether the ad changes alone would ultimately account for advertising success or lack of it.
Still, there is guarded optimism; for example, Mr. Minow said that Planned Parenthood officials had originally feared a 10 percent shortfall in their $22 million autumn direct-mail budget, but they now predict that the shortfall will be smaller.
Mr. Donaldson expressed similar hopes on behalf of the American Cancer Society. "Our mantra," he said, "is business as usual.
"But with sensitivity."
By BERNARD STAMLER, The New York Times Company November 8, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The New York Times. All rights reserved.