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February 02, 2012

It’s Time to Bench the Super Bowl Chimp Ads

Like so many people, I am looking forward to Super Bowl rematch of the Giants and Patriots (my father, a retired football coach, roots for the Giants, but there are a lot of Patriots fans in my world, given that I come from southern New England).

Like a lot of people, too, I am looking forward to this year’s commercials, but with a few glaring exceptions. CareerBuilder will air another ad featuring chimpanzees, dressed in office attire, engaging in silly, demeaning and unnatural behaviors. It’s a crass throwback to vaudeville acts with animals, and by going with this theme a third time, CareerBuilder has distinguished itself as a loser in the corporate social responsibility game.

Chimpanzee at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch
Michelle Riley/The HSUS
A chimp at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch.

There’s no surer sign of just how clueless CareerBuilder is than its insistence that the chimpanzees are treated well on the set and that it supports “the fair and humane treatment of all animals.” That is important, but what’s really wrong is that the advertisement is harmful not only to individual chimps, but to the protection of chimpanzee populations in the wild.

CareerBuilder used its in-house ad agency to devise this spot, and that’s probably not a coincidence. More than 10 of the top 15 advertising agencies in the world and three of the top agencies in America won’t use chimps, and Ad Age has come out against their use. By continuing to feature them in advertisements, CareerBuilder is trolling the moral bottom.

We have been through this before, and CareerBuilder cannot pretend it doesn’t know the facts. The small amount of time spent shooting a movie or commercial is not the issue; the issue is the sequence of suffering and harm that occur before and after the shoot. It starts with infant chimpanzees stripped from their fiercely protective mothers, suffering long-term psychological damage and then being subjected to abusive training. It ends with the chimpanzees too large to control―usually before age 7―when they are dumped at roadside zoos, in small backyard cages, or used for breeding the next generation of chimpanzee performers or pets.

A lucky few go to sanctuary, where the public supports them for the remaining 40 or so years of their lives at a staggering expense. That’s what happened to the last batch of CareerBuilder chimps. CareerBuilder likely paid $3.5 million to show the advertisement, about what it will take kindhearted citizens to pay for the lifetime care of five chimpanzees cast off from the entertainment industry that underpins their use in such commercials. Does this company think that the humane community has loads of cash lying around so that it can go forth with a rash of reckless decisions and we can pick up the tab for the next 40 years?

CareerBuilder’s thoughtless use of chimpanzees is still worse in light of the evidence that “the use of chimpanzees in commercial media undermines chimpanzee conservation efforts,” leading viewers to assume that chimpanzees are not an endangered species on the verge of extinction. As a Lincoln Park Zoo official recently said, “Individual chimps are being harmed and wild populations are being harmed by this frivolous use of an endangered species.” Such losses are an awfully steep price to pay for a few moments of corporate brand awareness.

Despite extensive pleas, CareerBuilder shows no signs of budging on the issue. But, there may be another way to end this practice. Some months ago, I wrote about a petition submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by a coalition of conservation and animal welfare groups led by The HSUS, and the agency’s subsequent announcement that it will consider listing all chimpanzees as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). We applaud this move as a step in the right direction to curtail chimpanzee usage in entertainment, advertising, the pet trade, and invasive research. It’s where public sentiment lies, and the winds of change are blowing.

Just this week, at the close of the comment period, coalition members submitted additional scientific evidence to the USFWS concerning that proper level of protection for captive chimpanzees under the ESA. Several other experts and more than 50,000 people submitted comments in favor of agency action, which could come later this year.

In related news, two in-depth television pieces on the use of chimpanzees in invasive research aired this week: NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams and CTV News both featured footage from our 2009 investigation at the New Iberia Research Center, the world’s largest chimpanzee laboratory.

These are just some of the efforts in which we’re involved to help chimps, in captivity and in the wild, at both The HSUS and Humane Society International. I hope you’ll support our efforts throughout 2012, because chimps are going to be a priority. And if you are near the remote control when the CareerBuilder ad comes on, please “Change the Channel for Chimps.” That’s what I’ll be doing.

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