Right about now, marketing departments should be in full gear, planning for their 2013 Super Bowl ads. Will CareerBuilder continue to turn a deaf ear to the pleas of animal welfare experts and many in the job searching public? Do we have to start planning, now, for a boycott? Today, I am sending this letter to Matthew Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder. He will likely toss this letter aside, as he has so many. But please join me, and send your own letter. Maybe, someday, he will listen to us.
May 8, 2012
Matthew W. Ferguson, CEO
200 North LaSalle Street
Chicago, IL 60601
Dear Mr. Ferguson,
I know that many experts have tried to reach out to you over the years. The Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have made the case , publicly and through letters. I am just one person, and I may not make a difference in your marketing calculations, but I have to try. Right about now, your marketing department is solidifying plans for your 2013 Super Bowl ad. Please, Mr. Ferguson, do not use live chimpanzees in your Super Bowl ad, or any other ads, ever again.
CareerBuilder’s 2012 ad was universally panned. MyFOXdc said the CareerBuilder ad was one of the five worst ads in the Super Bowl telecast. New York Times advertising reporter Stuart Elliott gave it a thumbs down. "CareerBuilder brought back its chimpanzees dressed as humans, meant to personify nitwit co-workers. But the only nitwits were the creators of the commercial, who ignored a growing belief on Madison Avenue that it is wrong to use live apes in ads," Elliot wrote. AdRant’s Brand Bowl 2012 named the CareerBuilder ad one of the five least effective. In an analysis of tweets, they found that the ad got a dreadful combination of low volume of chatter and low positive commentary. Even Global Animal, who gave a "paws up" to the widely opposed Skechers ad, gave a decidedly "paws down" to CareerBuilder.
So, I ask, why continue to exploit chimpanzees for a failed advertising campaign? Your creative team meant to make fun of the chimpanzees, but CareerBuilder was the one ridiculed.
CareerBuilder’s use of live chimpanzees for a cheap laugh is no laughing matter. In fact, your company is hurting chimpanzees, both captive and wild, with your irresponsible exploitation of chimpanzees in marketing campaigns over the years.
First, you need to know that your company’s assurance that no chimpanzees were harmed during filming is an empty declaration. The harm happens behind the scenes, before the animals arrive on set. The chimpanzees featured in your ads were traumatized as babies. Trainers take baby chimpanzees from the arms of their mothers and subject them to social isolation, forcing them to become malleable “entertainers.” By using live chimpanzees for advertising, CareerBuilder supports an industry that hurts the chimpanzees from the beginning of their lives, through their youthful isolation, and during often-abusive training.
You also need to be aware of what happens to the chimpanzees after they spend two, three, or maybe five years in show business. They become too strong to handle and are cast aside. The individuals and companies (like CareerBuilder) that exploit them don’t pay for their care for the 40 or 50 years that remain in their lives. Trainers dump them at seedy roadside zoos, or if the chimpanzees are very lucky, they may be rescued by increasingly overstressed and underfunded sanctuaries. Several zoos participating in the Chimpanzee Species Survival Program, a program of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, also rescue chimpanzees from the entertainment industry. I should point out that several of the chimpanzees in earlier CareerBuilder ads are in a sanctuary and receive no financial support from your company. Their ongoing care is funded by private individual donors.
But the concern about the CareerBuilder ads goes beyond the harm inflicted on these individual chimpanzees. It extends to the insidious damage done to conservation education efforts. A public that laughs at ridiculous and unnatural antics of costumed chimpanzees is less likely to understand that chimpanzees are part of an endangered species that needs protection. Using chimpanzees in advertising actually hurts conservation education efforts for chimpanzees in the wild. In a study published last summer, primatologist 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’ 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.
The threats against chimpanzee conservation are so dire that we simply cannot afford to “dumb down” the public perception. Your continued use of live chimpanzees, if that is what you plan, would confirm a deliberate interference with the conservation education that must take place if we are to save the remaining chimpanzees in the wild.
Advertisers have known for a long time that anthropomorphized chimpanzees—chimpanzees in human clothes and in human situations—sell. In the 1950s and ’60s, baby boomers were introduced to a legion of chimpanzees in movies and on TV, selling products and entertaining the child in all of us. Back then, the public was innocent about the harm being done to the animals. We didn’t know that the open mouth chimpanzee “grin” is usually a grimace of fear.
It’s different today. Thanks to decades of research and an increasing interest in animal welfare, we can no longer claim ignorance.
While CareerBuilder scorns the expert opinions of primatologists and the concerns of animal advocates everywhere, responsible companies are listening. Pfizer created an innovative ad campaign for Robitussin using a computer-generated image of an orangutan. Other responsible companies are creating innovative marketing campaigns with new computer-generated imagery technology instead of real animals, but CareerBuilder continues to exploit live chimpanzees in outdated ads that harken back to the mindless exploitation of the last century.
CareerBuilder’s ads could reflect and illuminate your desired identity as a technological leader. Imagine the reaction if you transformed the zany chimpanzees of 2012 to computer-generated chimpanzees with the power that exploded from the movie screens of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. (Check out Imaginarium Studios U.K. for some of the amazing possibilities.) CareerBuilder could be avant-garde instead of retrograde. Your company could be a leader instead of the butt of jokes. You could help rather than hurt.
Dawn A. Forsythe