Watching Super Bowl ads is a lot of fun. Sometimes it is even more fun than watching the game.
Unfortunately, CareerBuilder’s use of live chimpanzees for a cheap laugh is no laughing matter. In fact, the company is hurting chimpanzees, both captive and wild, with its irresponsible exploitation of chimps in marketing campaigns over the years.
We love to see cute animals doing funny things. Advertisers have known for a long time that anthropomorphic chimpanzees – chimps in human clothes and in human situations – sell. During the Great Depression, a trained zoo chimp in a business suit and eyeglasses helped persuade Detroiters to donate to the Community Fund. As the daughter of a Detroit Zoo chimp trainer in the 1950s and 1960s, I watched my dad train chimps to ride ponies and play banjos for shows enjoyed by millions.
Back then, the public was innocent about the harm being done to the animals. We didn’t know that the open mouth chimpanzee “grin” we laughed with/at is most often a grimace of fear.
It’s different today. Thanks to decades of research, and by using our own increased awareness, we can no longer claim innocence.
Unfortunately, CareerBuilder is still trying to claim last century’s naivete. The animals “were not harmed during the production of the ad,” their marketing department claims. Well, of course not. That happens before the cameras start to roll.
I saw how trainers turn a traumatized baby chimpanzee into a malleable entertainer. Baby chimpanzees destined for the stage are taken from the arms of their mothers, and the trainers put them into social isolation. The youngsters are forced to rely on their human handlers rather than develop normally with their own kind. And training a smart chimp isn’t like training a dog. My father beat the zoo chimps, and that “training method” is still used by commercial trainers today, although not for more than 35 years (thank goodness) by accredited zoos.
After the chimpanzees spend two, three, maybe five years in show biz, they become too strong to handle and are relegated to the trash heap known as retirement. No one pays for their care for the 40 or 50 years that remain in their lives. They are put into research programs or, if they are very lucky, they may be rescued by increasingly overstressed and underfunded sanctuaries. In a magnificent turn-around since my dad’s day, zoos are also rescuing entertainment chimps.
But the concern about the CareerBuilder ads goes beyond the welfare of these individual chimps. Using chimps in advertising actually hurts conservation education efforts. In a study published last summer, chimpanzee expert Steve Ross followed up on 2008 survey data showing that “the public is less likely to think that chimpanzees are endangered compared to other great apes, and that this is likely the result of media mis-portrayals in movies, television and advertisements.”
Dr. Ross’ new research found that people “seeing images in which chimpanzees are shown in typically human settings (such as an office space as shown in the CareerBuilder ads) were more likely to perceive wild populations as being stable and healthy compared to those seeing chimpanzees in other contexts.”
Wild populations are not stable, nor are they healthy. In fact, the
For many years, chimpanzee advocates have begged CareerBuilder to stop using live chimpanzees in its ads. We are trying again this year, and the company’s refusal is stunning.
CareerBuilder is not relying on chimp ads for their success as a company. Job seekers don’t think, “I need to use that chimp company to find a job!” CareerBuilder’s continuing intransigence isn’t even due to ignorance, because experts have been explaining this to the company over the years. No, it is exploiting chimpanzees for its own enjoyment, but it’s not funny. It is sad.