Advertising Chimps Get Fat Raises

Primate Actor Retirements Plus High Demand Push Costs Skyward

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CHICAGO ( -- Screen Actors Guild members take note: A group of commercial actors secured an across-the-board, 25% to 30% pay increase last year without so much as a union meeting or strike threat.
CareerBuilder's cost for using chimps in ads has increased as much as 30% since the campaign first began in 2004.
CareerBuilder's cost for using chimps in ads has increased as much as 30% since the campaign first began in 2004.

Primate shortage
Chimp compensation is on the rise, animal trainers and ad agency creatives said, because a recent surge of retirements has created a primate shortage. And that-paired with marketers' still potent urge to tap chimps and orangutans to hawk job listings, light beer and stock brokerages-is driving prices up.

The highest-profile campaign of that ilk -- CareerBuilder's office chimp spots that broke on the Super Bowl -- had a shoot delayed a month last year due to talent availability. And Marshall Ross, executive creative director at CareerBuilder's agency, Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago, said the cost of using chimps has risen as much as 30% since the popular ads started running in 2004.

"It's a great time to be a working chimp," he noted.

Animal rights protests
Animal-rights activists disagree. And there's some evidence that years of protests against their use contributed to the current shortage, both by dissuading some marketers from using chimps and encouraging trainers to retire them.

"People are beginning to realize that they use fear and beatings to keep [the animals] on cue," said a spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has conducted an online campaign at and persuaded marketers such as Honda and Puma to pledge not to use chimps in commercials. "It's become passe to use them."

But the biggest blow to the acting-ape supply came last year, when Hollywood's largest trainer, Bob Dunn, retired his 11 chimps and six orangutans to a Florida animal sanctuary. A spokesman for Bob Dunn's Animal Services said they were retired because "there was an opportunity to keep them together as a family." Patti Ragan-who runs the sanctuary housing Mr. Dunn's retired chimps-said he told her he'd grown wary of being targeted by protestors.

Cost of working chimps
And then there's the cost. Chimps, for instance, can only act until about age eight, at which point they become too large and erratic to be controlled on film sets. But they can live to age 60, at a cost of more than $10,000 a year at an animal sanctuary such as Ms. Ragan's. "We're seeing fewer and fewer people willing to take on that commitment as the working chimps retire," said Cramer-Krasselt's Mr. Ross. "They're not being replaced at the same rate they're leaving."

Whatever the reason, the retirements created a minor windfall for those still working, at least in the short-term. A spokeswoman for Steve Martin's Working Wildlife, now Hollywood's largest ape handler, said the cost of using its chimps rose 25% last year, to $1,000 per day from $800. "They're working more, too," she said.

But she doesn't expect the price increases to continue, considering advances in computer animation that make it possible to create realistic animal effects on screen. "That's disappointing," said Ms. Ragan, an opponent of chimp ads. "I'm hoping they become so expensive nobody wants to use them anymore."
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