NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- They were once stars. After a rough start in life -- taken from their mothers during infancy -- they found themselves on the national stage, making millions laugh during the Super Bowl. Their careers were short, two or three years at most, and now they've been shunted aside. But they're the lucky ones. Sent to finish out their lives in Florida, the four chimpanzees from the original CareerBuilder Super Bowl ads share a home with Michael Jackson's former pet, Bubbles, at the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula. They could have ended up in cages in roadside attractions, or on the nightly news, put down after going on a rampage.
Before this year's Super Bowl, it had likely been years since most Americans had seen a national TV spot featuring an ape. That's because chimpus commercialus and its kin, thanks to pressure put on marketers and ad agencies by animal-rights groups, are on the verge of extinction.
But there are still reminders. After moving away from the use of chimpanzees in its Big Game commercials, CareerBuilder has sparked a minor controversy by reviving interest in the animals that have long been a staple of big-budget TV advertising. CareerBuilder ads in last night's game returned to the theme from the company's memorable efforts in 2005 and 2006: chimpanzees as obstinate, time-wasting cubicle-mates who demonstrate the need for CareerBuilder's online job listings.
Last night's spot could mark the last for this close relative of the monkey that has ridden on Madison Avenue's back for decades.
Eighteen different ad agencies have agreed in the last few years to stop using great apes in the commercials they produce, the result of an ongoing effort started in 2008 by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Among the big firms involved are Omnicom Group's BBDO, GSD&M and Merkley & Partners; Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson, DraftFCB and RPA; Havas' Arnold and Euro RSCG; WPP's Grey Group, Ogilvy & Mather, Young & Rubicam and JWT; and Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi and Leo Burnett.
"The list is only going to grow," said Julia Galluci, a primatologist with PETA who studies the use of apes in commercials.
PETA also successfully lobbied several major advertisers to modify or pull ads in 2010 when apes were featured. Pfizer edited out an orangutan used in a commercial crafted by Grey Group for its Robitussin, and decided instead to incorporate a digital image of a chimp. Dodge, AT&T and Travelers Insurance made similar moves after PETA's approach.