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Super Bowl commercials: What happens to those CareerBuilder chimps?

They're not monkeys. They're chimpanzees with short working lives in entertainment, after which they can't be returned to zoos or the wild. Lucky ones end up in sanctuaries, needing care for the next 40 years. Major ad agencies have pledged not to use great apes. Why won't CareerBuilder?

By Patti Ragan / February 7, 2011



Wauchula, Fla.

CareerBuilder released their newest advertisement this weekend during the Super Bowl – a parking lot scene with a frustrated employee surrounded by bumbling colleagues (played by chimpanzees). Like many Super Bowl commercials, the 30-second spot has generated plenty of post-game buzz rating its cleverness, humor, and impact. But this ad has also brought on plenty of outrage, and rightly so.

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Even before the commercial aired, thousands of people (and several animal welfare groups) concerned about the use and exploitation of chimpanzees for TV commercials wrote and signed petitions and voiced their opposition to the company.

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I have a special interest in this situation. The chimpanzee youngsters (Ellie, Mowgli, Bella, and Koda) used in CareerBuilder’s first round of comic commercials shown during the 2005 Super Bowl, Emmy Awards, and Academy Awards were retired from acting and are all here now at the Center for Great Apes, as rescued primates needing sanctuary care for the rest of their lives – some 40 years or more.

What happens after short working life?

Chimpanzees used in commercials are mostly infants and juveniles who were taken away from their mothers (a traumatic act for mother and infant) so they can be trained to perform for entertainment and advertising. This changes their futures forever. Since they usually only have a working “shelf life” of about 6 to 8 years (while still juveniles), they rarely can be handled and worked as adolescents and adults, and most often end up discarded out of show business.

Accredited zoos won’t usually accept performing or human-raised chimpanzees because they are difficult to mix with the zoos’ more naturally behaving groups. Many of these former “stars” end up in roadside zoos, backyard cages, or breeder compounds. Those lucky enough to end up in an established sanctuary have to be supported for the rest of their lives by donations from people who don’t know them, but care about them.

The public is more aware today than six years ago of what the cost is to these intelligent great apes used as pets and entertainers (simply to make us laugh or pitch sales for a company). Today, at least 15 advertising agencies, including ten of the top 15 agencies in the world, and the top three agencies in this country (McCann Erickson, BBDO, and Young & Rubicam) have pledged not to use great apes in commercials and advertisements any longer. And the list is growing.

Portraying chimpanzees as silly hurts wild population

CareerBuilder has said in a press release that its business has not been as good as when they used chimpanzees for their ads. Richard Castellini, the Chief Marketing Officer for CareerBuilder, said people ask, “When are the monkeys coming back?” Chimpanzees are not monkeys (they are great apes), as the ad would have the public believe. CareerBuilder has created an image that is inaccurate and uneducated. Chimpanzees are highly intelligent – gifted, in fact. The premise of the television commercial is a hapless drone whose co-workers are chimpanzees, thus likening a bad job to working with idiots. Characterizing chimpanzees as idiots is simply incorrect.

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