PETA campaign director defends controversial vegan ad: ‘The underlying message is a helpful one’

On Monday, PETA released a new Web ad promoting veganism that featured a virile young vegan man who so ardently makes love to his girlfriend that she ended up in a neckbrace. An accompanying (for "Boyfriend Went Vegan and Knocked the Bottom Out of Me")--launched Monday, too. A number of critics (and viewers) felt the ad and the website crossed a line.

"PETA successfully ruins Valentine's Day," wrote Jezebel's Anna North. "If you weren't already icked out by Valentine's Day, [this] should do the trick."

"It's kind of like abuse," Laura Weisman of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote. "Like what PETA takes a stand against. Unless their concern doesn't extend to the human race, or females in particular."

"If you haven't already," the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence group's Twitter feed instructed followers, "go to and prepare to have your blood boil."

On Tuesday, Yahoo News spoke with Lindsay Rajt, PETA's associate director of campaigns and outreach, about the ad, the campaign and the subsequent backlash.

Yahoo News: What was the idea behind the ad?

Rajt: A surge of young people, including young men and women, are becoming vegan. And we felt it was our duty to warn people about the potential side effects. [Laughs] It's taking a playful approach to warning people about one side effect of the cholesterol and fat in animal products, and heart disease, is impotence.

But does the ad also promote violence against women?

As I said yesterday, people who watch the ad all the way through can see her mischievous half-smile. She's happy to be back. Of course the piece is tongue-in-cheek.

What about the idea that in showing a beaten woman, even in jest, the ad also takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to abuse, which is what PETA is fundamentally against?

The woman in our spot is still smiling from a romp with her boyfriend. She had vigorous sex. She enjoyed his energy so much she went out to buy him more vegetables. It is a humorous spot and men and women are getting that.

Was the possibility of sending a bad message to women something you considered when you were putting the ad together?

The underlying message is a helpful one. Eating meat can lead to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and impotence. Going vegan can lead to an increase in energy and sexual stamina. More than anything it is a humorous spot and both men and women are getting it. When we put together a campaign, we consider how it will be received. PETA is largely run by women and have a female president, so it's a natural part of the process to consider a woman's viewpoint.

Courting controversy is in PETA's DNA. What is an ideas meeting at PETA like? Is it like, "How can we top this?"

At PETA, we realize we're up against large, powerful and well-funded groups and individuals, who can throw their weight behind a campaign. We have to be a little more nimble and creative to get our message across.

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