FishLove campaign meant well, but missed the boat

Here at SeafoodSource, we’ve written a number of commentaries in the past extolling the need for an advertising campaign that would bring the fragmented, often struggling seafood industry its due attention from the mainstream world.

However, once again FishLove has proven we have to be careful what we wish for. For the third year in a row, the U.K.-based sustainable fishing advocacy NGO has produced a photo campaign featuring naked celebrities — most of them unfamiliar to American audiences — using various sea creatures to cover up what they call in Europe the “naughty bits.” Past celebrity models for the campaign include billionaire Sir Richard Branson, actors Sir Ben Kingsley and Michael Gambon and “Monty Python” alum Terry Gilliam.

It’s a campaign for a worthy cause, if a little strangely executed. FishLove revealed (ahem) its latest offerings just in time for a key European Parliament vote on whether to ban a specific type of environmentally-unfriendly bottom-trawling off the British coast, encouraging the public to sign a petition online to support the ban. Among the photos in this year’s campaign, 46-year-old Gillian Anderson, best known to fans of the sci-fi series “The X Files” as Special Agent Dana Scully, stared expressionless — and topless — into the camera with a conger eel draped over her shoulders like a witch’s familiar. It’s a blatant attempt to use two stalwarts of advertising — recognizable faces and nudity — to sell a message.

To be fair, FishLove is hardly the only nonprofit advocacy group doing this. Animal activist group PETA has an ongoing photo campaign against wearing fur featuring unclad celebrities — without seafood, of course — that has certainly turned heads as well.

The difference is, the PETA ads are undeniably sexy, and trying to be. The FishLove campaign’s overall tone is ambiguous at best. The celebrities’ expressions range from laughter to hooded-eye sexuality to, in the case of Anderson, a borderline-creepy vacancy. The seafood juxtaposition doesn’t help with the vagary. Leggy Lizzy Jagger’s come-hither expression on FishLove’s homepage isn’t enough to make the viewer forget she’s straddling a yellowfin tuna.

The images are certainly striking, but they fall flat on communication. What exactly is the message here? That seafood is sexy? That’s about all one can get from the photos at a glance, and most ad campaigns won’t get more than that from their audiences. Maybe the photos accompany text in European campaigns that explain the message (FishLove’s site doesn’t say), but as any photographer will tell you, the best photos tell the story without text. Let’s also not forget, as many critics of the campaign have pointed out, the sea creatures in the photos are, of course, dead, so how exactly does the campaign promote sea life-friendly practices?

For all the spectacle, the campaign didn’t have the desired effect. The parliament voted down the ban, and the number of online signatures for the petition fell well below the target.

This is too bad, since no one, including yours truly, dislikes promoting sustainable fishing, but as far as getting attention, the FishLove campaign is a textbook example of somebody trying too hard. If FishLove really cares about its message, it would do well next time to worry more about communicating and less about the art.


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