Until they actually break the law, or wreck the lives of people who have a vague connection to a practice they disagree with, I can't bring myself to dislike animal rights groups. I think it's excellent that so many people are finally questioning mankind's historic attitude that the whole of nature is there for us to use, and finally use up. I reserve my hatred for people who spit flaming feathers, on principle, at anyone who attempts to express a view which may mildly suggest that something they are doing might not be very nice, and please could they think about reconsidering. (If you'd like some examples of unnecessary anti-protest bile-spitting, try googling a combination such as 'PETA', 'fluffy' and 'morons'.)
On the other hand, PETA's advertising strategy doesn't really do them any favours. Take this campaign. When I followed the link on Badscience.net I firmly believed that I would be taken to The Daily Mash website. But no, to my utter amazement, they really are trying to rebrand fish as 'sea kittens'.
The logic seems to be that if children realise that fish can also be cute and lovable, they will refuse to eat them. This seems to ignore two basic facts:
1) Parents, not kids, plan the family dinners. Kids have their fads and tantrums, but most parents can undo the influence of one little website.
2) Lots of kids have pet goldfish. Many more have visited aquariums at some point. Thousands of little girls want to be The Little Mermaid (the Disney one, of course) and while we're on the subject of films, who didn't have a serious emotional investment in the fate of Nemo?
So the basic concept of the campaign seems to have a few flaws. Can they overcome this with brilliant, inspired execution? No.
PETA have proven before that they aren't always great with children. Whoever wrote the text for the site has no idea about their alleged target audience. Remember when you were six years old and your Mum's colleague - the one with no kids and really strong perfume - came to visit and spoke to you like you'd both been lobotomised? It's like that, but more so.
The moment I lost all control and started rolling around the floor of the staff-room was when I got to the "Sea Kitten Stories". Apparently, "You can learn a lot about a culture from its bedtime stories". Excellent. I've always been ashamed at my ignorance of fish culture. Here's an illustrative example:
Remember, this is a site for children, or at least people of a mental age at which you want to Create your own Sea Kitten. 'Precocious'? 'Double-major in neuroscience'? Why would a fish be litter-trained, at two months or otherwise? Shouldn't the people who invented the term 'sea kitten' know if it should be capitalised or not? What on earth happened to the structure of that final sentence?
Tony the Trout is the smartest Sea Kitten in his school. Already litter-trained at 2 months old, Tony went on to double-major in neuroscience and environmental studies at Clamford University, eventually graduating with honors.
When Tony is caught and fed to a precocious young child who, having eaten one mercury-filled sea kitten too many, falls to the bottom of his class, the irony is not lost on him.
I would like to point out at this juncture that I love the animated pages of the 'bedtime story book' and am genuinely fond of the cartoon fish in cat masks. The site looks very professional, as does the more grown-up version. How the designers could bear to associate with the pea-brained numpty who wrote the text is beyond me.
Hopefully PETA will realise at some point that they're wasting their money on these campaigns, and will pump their considerable resources into a useful discussion of animal-rights issues - not to mention environmental and economic issues such as how to protect ever-decreasing fish populations. This will have the happy side-effect that they will be viewed less often as pack of howling lunatics.
The "Milk Sucks" campaign, where you can find all those oh-so-desirable trading cards.