Memo to Adland: Enough With the Monkey Business
An Ad Age Editorial
Over the past few years, you may have noticed fewer and fewer commercials featuring apes -- chimpanzees, in particular. That's a positive development, but the fact is there should be none.
At the moment, we've seen two spots in circulation: One is an ad for Robitussin featuring a digital chimp in a green scarf, the other is a CareerBuilder Super Bowl spot featuring the real thing.
The first spot should be pulled. Even with digital technology being what it is, the ape looks fake. In fact, it's because of chimps' resemblance to humans that it reminds us of the infamous Orville Redenbacher zombie Crispin resurrected in 2007. And we'd argue the humor inherent in using monkeys and apes is because you're taking a wild animal -- a real one -- and training it to dress and act like a human. You can make a digital thing do anything; the humor loses its comedic impact.
Which brings us to the CareerBuilder spot. Ad Age is a fan of humor and, on the surface, monkey commercials are funny and number among our favorites over the years. We bet the CareerBuilder spot does extremely well with consumers in the USA Today Ad Meter.
But this is a case in which we'll side with the animal-rights activists. It's not just the training of these animals -- CareerBuilder has assured everyone that the chimps used are being treated humanely. For us, the bigger issue comes down to the procurement and retirement of these animals. You've got to get young apes somewhere -- and chances are it isn't a pet store or a zoo that stole an infant from its mother. And, after a couple of years on the ad circuit, apes are left in animal sanctuaries and struggle to survive or, worse, are dumped on people who'll cage them for sideshow attractions.
It's time to stop using them for the sake of selling product.
We're not the only ones to take this position. Ten of the biggest ad agencies in the country have pledged not to work with apes again.
Finally, if marketers don't see this from an ethical standpoint, then perhaps they should see it from a business one. Consider the expense of using these animals and trainers. Consider the expense (and time) required to find a shop that will shoot such campaigns. And, finally, consider the possibility of public backlash as groups such as PETA gain more and more support for their causes in the wider population. The aforementioned Robitussin spot originally included an actual orangutan, which was swapped out due to such pressure. So not only did the marketer spend money to make a spot with an actual primate, it then had to spend again to redo it.