Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More reason to boycott businesses that use apes in their ads

Advertisers have known for a long, long time that anthropomorphic chimpanzees – chimps made to resemble humans – sell. This photo of Jo Mendi I, taken in November 1932, was devised to encourage people to contribute to the Community Fund, an effort to provide much needed help to people during the Great Depression. The Detroit Zoo, who used Jo for these worthwhile campaigns, suggested a caption for the Detroit News: “Jo Mendi signs a check to do his bit for the Community Fund drive and turns it over to Mr. Wacks. Joe had to borrow the money as the city has taken over all he has earned.”
William Wachs and trainer Theodore Schroeder with the Detroit Zoo's first Jo Mendi,
November 3, 1932
You know how much I abhor the old zoo practice of putting a chimpanzee into human attire, and training him for unnatural poses or entertainment. But now we have evidence of a new concern altogether. It appears that putting chimpanzees into these types of photo opportunities leaves people with two misconceptions. First, seeing Jo “play” with these two gentlemen (one of whom is his much-bitten trainer, Theodore Schneider), people are more likely to think that chimpanzees are suitable as pets. Second, when they see Jo next to a human, people are not as likely to recognize that chimpanzees are endangered in the wild.
A newly published study, Specific Image Characteristics Influence Attitudes about Chimpanzee Conservation and Use as Pets, found that people seeing a photograph of a chimpanzee with a human standing nearby were 35.5% more likely to consider wild populations to be stable/healthy, compared to those seeing the exact same picture without a human. Wow, that’s a lot of misconception. A 10% swing in perceptions would be substantial, 20% is big, but 35% is huge!
Wild populations are not stable, nor are they healthy. In fact, chimpanzees have been classified as endangered since 1996.
This is important, folks! Imagine, if you will, a massive television audience of a hundred million people viewing such a picture. Imagine the millions of people coming away with exactly the wrong impression of chimpanzee vulnerability in the wild. Well, you don’t have to imagine. Thanks to the use of chimpanzees in a Superbowl advertisement for, that happened this year. Despite the pleas of animal welfare advocates and conservationists, ever since 2006 has been proud of its use of chimpanzees in its Superbowl ad campaign. They are probably planning the 2012 ad now.
Advertisers seem to think that it takes genius to mimic what was essentially being done in publicity campaigns back in 1932, even before TV broadcasting in America. Actually, if we compare this picture of Jo to careerbuilder’s 2011 ad, we can see that current marketing “geniuses” are just lazy copycats. But I digress…
Maybe, with this new study, advertisers will now look at the empirical evidence of the harm done to chimpanzees by its marketing strategy, and will embark on something really creative… something that doesn’t repeat the tired – but, unfortunately effective – marketing stunt of using chimpanzees in a human setting. Maybe they will recognize that they are contributing to public misconceptions that could very well be harming chimpanzee conservation efforts.
Please take a few minutes to read the report of Specific Image Characteristics Influence Attitudes about Chimpanzee Conservation and Use as Pets, just published in Plos One. Share the article, and help spread the word: Stop using great apes in entertainment and advertising.

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