Halloween passed and we are coming full force into the rest of the holiday season. While, as expected, we’ve started to leave spookiness behind us, this eerie campaign by PETA and Grey London is still on our minds - not only because of the incredible prosthetics and the classic sci-fi ‘70s horror vibes, but also because there isn’t much scarier than harming animals. Especially in this campaign - octopuses.
Leading international comedy director Jeff Low teamed up with PETA for their newest petition, aiming to block the development of the first octopus farm in Europe, as well as educate audiences about the most intelligent of molluscs. In octopus farms, the cephalopods are crammed into tanks too small for their size, before they face their death by various inhumane ways.
In the 90-second spot, PETA introduces us to this topic in a rather unusual way, utilising dark humour and sci-fi aesthetics to tell us about the ‘Octocurse’. Turns out, when you eat octopus, you might well turn into one. The campaign goes on to describe various adverse reactions that one might experience under the Octocurse, such as enlarged skull, three beating hearts, and even squirting ink. The film ends with the message: ‘Octopuses are extremely intelligent, sensitive creatures. If you eat them you’re basically a cannibal. Stay human. Don’t eat octopus.’
Grey London explained that given the fatigue around the subject of veganism and all the overused arguments around the subject, they needed to find a way to keep all eyes on them, while still fighting the good fight. This is why they finally set on the usage of dark humour in the script, in order to ‘Trojan horse’ the concept of not eating octopus into the consciousness of viewers.
LBB’s Zoe Antonov caught up with Grey London executive creative director Dave Wigglesworth to find out about the inspiration behind the campaign, why it was the funniest set he had been on, and what the process behind the making of the prosthetics was like.
LBB> What was the brief, and what were your initial ideas?
Dave> The initial brief was very simple; PETA wanted us to raise awareness around how amazing octopuses are, and to make people consider not eating them - but we needed to pivot, given the audience has fatigue around veganism, etc. The teams machine-gunned out many great ideas, but the ‘Octocurse’ very quickly became the standout for us, creatively.
LBB> Tell me more about the beginning of the project and why you created the brief? How did you collide with Grey?
PETA> Octopus consumption is increasing, so we wanted to create powerful, memorable content to combat that trend and encourage people to stop eating these wonderful animals. Decades of campaigning has shown us that simply making information available about the suffering that octopuses and other animals endure when killed for their flesh isn’t enough – we have to find creative ways to grab the public’s attention and make them want to find out more about the cruel industries we’re opposing. The “octocurse” was born out of that.
At PETA, we always say that what reaches one may not reach another, so we have to try everything. We don’t shy away from new approaches, and Grey has a long track record of tackling issues in new, often quirky ways, and that meshed well with us.
LBB> Tell me about the creative partnership you had with PETA during the project. Have you worked with them before, and how involved were they creatively in the making?
Dave> This was our first time working with PETA, and it was great. The clients are extremely ambitious and have amazing creative taste. They were very collaborative in the ideation process, and then very trusting once we moved into production.
PETA> We had a lot of energetic meetings with the Grey team before this idea came to life – and though it was certainly a collaborative effort, Grey was the driving force behind the concept.
LBB> When did you decide that dark humour would be the way to go - was it there from the very conception, or was there a twist somewhere in the ideation process?
Dave> From quite early in the process, we felt that dark humour could play an important role in this project. It is an important subject, but one that is far from top of mind. We wanted to disarm the audience and catch them off guard, so that we could ‘Trojan horse’ this important message. I have a very good relationship with Jeff Low, and he was the guy I wanted on the job from day one. The humour was perfectly in line with our tastes, and we had a great creative working process, which was essential considering the time and money that we had in order to make this as great as we knew it deserved to be.
PETA> PETA uses humour to reach people who may be put off by a more serious approach, and we’ve found that making people laugh often opens them up to receiving more sombre information. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to effective advocacy, but creating fun and funny content is a strategy that can help people engage with the issues we campaign on, perhaps for the first time. That’s a vital step towards creating change. So yes, absolutely, it’s a strategy we’ll continue to use.
LBB> What is the aim of the campaign, and so far, are you on track with reaching it? How have audiences responded?
PETA> The aim of the project is to get people talking about PETA and about octopuses – and based on the fact that I’m doing this interview, I’d say that it’s working!
We’ve seen international media attention for the campaign, including broadcast coverage, and tens of thousands of organic views across social media channels – and that number is growing by the day.
LBB> How did you set on a '70s sci-fi aesthetic, which is quite unusual for this field, but clearly very effective?
Dave> Because of the idea talks about an ancient curse, we wanted to create a PSA that felt like it had been filmed in the ‘70s and was lost to time. We wanted the film to feel like an old VHS tape that had been unearthed. We also took a lot of inspiration from Rod Serling’s ‘Twilight Zone’ on how you can speak about the weird and supernatural in a creatively interesting way.
LBB> Tell me more about the prosthetics used throughout the film - the huge heads, the tentacles. How were they made, and how were the heads fitted?
Dave> For special effects, Jeff and I were initially thinking we would lean heavily into budget, lo-fi horror styling - embracing the retro vibe of the film. But once we had our first chat with our prosthetics expert Rob Alsop, that all changed. He was amazing, and he really went to town on how far we could push this. As soon as he referenced the baby from ‘It’s Alive’ and the Borg Queen from ‘Star Trek’, our vision was set astronomically higher – and he delivered.
Emily Newsom and the make-up team did a fantastic job of making most of the special effects work in camera - from glueing wigs and bulbous foam heads onto the actors, to sawing tentacles with makeshift saws to make sure they fitted onto our spokesman’s hand underneath his suit jacket. From there Untold Studios really added the magic. Although the plan was to make sure everything worked in-camera, there was still a lot of clean-up and post work that needed to be done. They went to town making sure that any lines and marks were cleared up in post, really bringing everything to life in a way we never imagined possible. They even surprised us with mad touches like the final ‘Octo Bride’ having bulbous eyeballs.
LBB> What do you believe is the role of creative media in engaging with these conversations?
Dave> As mentioned, it’s a subject that hasn’t really been widely discussed. Even for ourselves, when briefed, we realised we hadn’t ever even questioned it. Should we eat octopus? The more you think about it, the more you conclude that you shouldn’t. So, that was our goal. We really wanted to catch people off guard in a disarming fun way – but one that really left you ruminating. We wanted the work to be standout and shareable enough to keep the conversation alive.
LBB> What kind of research went into the campaign, and was there a finding that it was centred around?
Dave> Once we had the idea of the ‘Octocurse’, we started to do a lot of research on octopus traits, as we wanted to centre the curses around things related to octopus. This really drove a lot of the writing process and the comedy. We really started to realise what amazing creatures octopus are; they are extremely emotional, they have three hearts, their blood is blue, they can camouflage themselves, they have a parrot like beak, etc. This became a strong creative stimulus to help us push the scenes and the comedy of the film.
LBB> What was the most difficult part of the project, and what was the most fun?
Dave> The most fun was writing the curses themselves. Sitting around and writing pages of stupid shit with Jeff was so much fun (although to be honest,this was also one of the real difficulties, as we had so many funny things that we wanted to shoot that having to narrow them down to our final seven or eight favourite scenes was a real struggle). We had to kill a lot of babies! The shoot itself also gets bundled into the fun category. I’ve never laughed so hard on a shoot. I’ve been on many shoots where you don’t know whether it will be funny or not until the edit, but this was not one of those. We were in tears half the time the camera was roiling, be it from a grown man in roller skates screaming out loud, or an ‘Octo eye guy’ in the car saying lines like ‘I hate my eyes'. We knew pretty quickly that this was going to be special.
LBB> What was your favourite part of the campaign and why?
PETA> As with any campaign, the best part is the launch – seeing people engage with the content, knowing that we planted a seed of change in their hearts and minds.
LBB> What is the target audience for this campaign and how did you strategise to reach them through the way the film is made?
Dave> The audience is anyone that eats octopus, and the aim was simply to get them to reconsider. We could’ve dramatised the amazing characteristics of octopus or the horrific conditions of farming them, but instead, we chose humour to cut through and deliver the message that octopus are almost human in their heart and soul. You wouldn’t eat a human, so why would you eat an octopus?
LBB> What is your one message to people who are reading this and might not be entirely convinced from the film?
PETA> As I mentioned earlier, what reaches one person may not resonate with another, so if you’re still not convinced that it’s time to stop eating octopuses, check out the other content on our channels. We have something for everyone.
LBB> Any final thoughts?
Dave> This project truly was a dream. It felt like a once-in-a-career project from start to end, the clients were great, the brief was great and bringing it to life was so much fun. We really hope it helps people think the next time they see octopus on the menu, and we look forward to making more brave work like this with PETA in the future.
PETA> I’ll close by saying that the more we come to learn about the other animals we share our planet with, the harder it becomes to justify killing them for a meal. Consider this: octopuses are capable of complex thought processes – they can navigate mazes, use tools, and easily learn to unscrew even “child-proof” lids just by watching. They are masters of disguise, decorate their homes as we do, and have excellent memories. They’re so intelligent that they’re often referred to as “primates of the sea” and the “Einsteins of the ocean”. Given all we know about their extraordinary abilities, surely it’s time we left these animals in peace.