Michael Vick and PETA – a 'Hollywood' Marketers Dream?

Now infamous NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s prison term is over. He’s now a free man. Vick, of course, was involved in the cruel act of dog fighting, but most stories I’ve seen this week mostly revolve around his chances of making a football comeback (perhaps this is due to the amount of sports radio I listen to?).

Having played football myself, I can tell you Vick is incredibly talented. As a person of compassion, I can tell you he is still in need of continued rehabilitation – which makes for much speculation about which team(s) would be interested in having him in the huddle.

One “team” who seemed interested in having him in the huddle was PETA, a group so aggressive in their marketing methods that they put both Madison Avenue – and Hollywood – to shame.

As you may recall, they apparently proposed a bizarre idea a while back — Vick would appear in public service ads for the group. The ads would ostensibly serve to discourage the cruel practice of dog fighting, but they would also have been a major marketing coup for PETA, helping raise their profile — and, no doubt, lead to more members and national attention (and donations).

But the ads would also have served to rehabilitate Vick’s image with the public, and make him seem contrite — an interesting thing for a group who presumably cares about animal rights to do. To draw an odd analogy, this would sort of be like asking Nancy Pelosi to do a message on the dangers of Botox.

It is unclear whether or not any money would have changed hands in the PETA TV deal, but the arrangement would have potentially been mutually beneficial — had it gone through, that is.

PETA now claims the ads were never in the works, but based on the number of substantiated media reports to the contrary, a more likely scenario is that they came under pressure — and backed out of the deal — when even more disturbing reports surfaced regarding Vick’s personal involvement with dog fighting. There are even reports they subjected Vick to a brain scan to see if he had enough empathy toward animals. Apparently, he didn’t.

Regardless, the Vick deal serves to highlight PETA’s savvy marketing skills (what else would you expect from a group which uses scantily-clad models to “sell” their agenda), as well as their willingness to enter into cozy partnerships with a motley crew of strange bedfellows — ranging from animal-abusing quarterbacks to credit card companies — when it serves their purposes.

While PETA has increasingly become adept at generating mainstream media attention, according to http://www.petakillsanimals.com/, PETA found homes for less than one out of every three hundred animals in 2008, and they killed 95 percent of the dogs and cats in their care last year. Clearly, they are being successful at something, though, and recently; the plot has thickened as they have been accused taking legal kickbacks along the way.

For example, PETA has targeted IAMS pet food (which is based in my home state of Ohio — a state struggling with job losses) through their “IamsCruelty” campaign. PETA accuses IAMS of practicing inhumane animal studies, even though they have been an industry leader in research procedures and animal welfare advocacy. Interestingly, PETA has entered into a partnership with a “holistic” clearinghouse, which sells pet food. While it is logical they would recommend an alternative to IAMS, it is also of note that PETA, itself, gets 8 percent of the proceeds generated when people purchase this food instead IAMS.

And then there’s the case of MasterCard. PETA targeted them with a “NastyCard” as punishment for their sponsoring the Ringling Brother’s circus. Meanwhile, PETA entered into a deal with VISA to offer a PETA Platinum Credit Card. PETA gets 1 percent of purchases made with the branded card as royalties.

The Michael Vick story is an interesting one, inasmuch as there are no heroes. Vick’s actions were despicable, but he has, at least, paid his dues. The media focus seems to be on his football future, not on preventing animal cruelty. Sadly, though, PETA — the organization who should be worried about protecting animals from abuse — appears to have merged from a radical “animal rights” organization — into a highly-profitable multi-million dollar fundraising and “anything goes” publicity marketing machine.

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