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Dodge pulls chimp from its 'tent event' ad

July 23, 2010 |  1:32 pm

Chimp

The other day I was watching television and I saw a car commercial that made me laugh.

The announcer in a disarmingly low-key delivery explained how Dodge was having this great promotion where if you bought one of their three selected vehicles you could drive it for two months, and if you didn't like it you could return it.

"They'll even cover your payments," the voice, belonging to "Dexter" star Michael C. Hall, said. "This event could not be more amazing."

The camera then focused on a small chimp wearing an Evel Kneivel-esqe jumpsuit walking over to what appears to be a dynamite detonator.

"Oh wait, there's a monkey," Hall said. The chimp pushes down on the bar of the detonator and instead of a huge explosion, a puff of confetti showers a few cars.

"I stand corrected," Hall deadpans.

Funny. Witty. And not a bad car promo.

But being someone who has shared an office at work with someone who has educated me over the years about the things that animal groups and activists are sensitive about, I wondered if a group like PETA would object to such a seemingly innocent spot. The next day I came in and showed Unleashed's Lindsay Barnett the video and asked her if she wouldn't mind writing to PETA and asking them what they thought.

On July 15, PETA sent Unleashed this statement from their primatologist, Julia Gallucci:

Most top ad agencies in the country won’t even consider producing an ad featuring a great ape these days given the well-documented abuse that young chimpanzees and orangutans suffer in the entertainment industry. This abuse starts when they are prematurely removed from their mothers and continues when they are trained to perform through savage beatings, denied even the most basic necessities, transported and housed in barren steel cages, and then discarded at seedy roadside zoos around the age of 8, even though they can live into their 60s. You won’t find a great-ape trainer without a history of Animal Welfare Act violations and a reputation for dumping animals when they’re no longer profitable. After watching a video narrated by Anjelica Huston about the use of great apes in entertainment, savvy ad agencies such as BBDO, Young & Rubicam, Grey Group, Draftfcb, and Saatchi & Saatchi made the compassionate decision not to exploit great apes in future ads. Dodge isn’t going to dodge a bullet on this one. It needs to pull the ad — and we’ve contacted the company asking it to do just that. 

On July 20, Colleen O'Brien, PETA's director of communications, wrote Unleashed to say that they had just learned some "exciting news":

Today, PETA’s Primatologist, Julia Gallucci, was told by the CEO of Dodge that, after receiving complaints from PETA and other animal protection groups, the company has made the decision to remove the chimpanzee from their commercial. They are currently working on altering the ad so the chimpanzee will no longer appear. The company also had plans to release a series of print ads with the chimpanzee, which they are now canceling. Dodge joins Travelers Insurance, AT&T and Europcar, all of whom pulled or altered ads with chimpanzees in just the last month after being contacted by PETA. You might be interested in knowing that the show Drop Dead Diva filmed an episode with Suzie, the young chimpanzee who was used in the Dodge commercial. PETA received a whistleblower report from the set alleging abusive treatment during filming of the episode, claiming that the trainer who handled Suzie on the set yanked Suzie's ears, pulled her hair, continually tugged at the leash that was attached to her leg, and yelled at her to the extent that she cowered because of the loud and threatening tone that he used. PETA has called on Lifetime Television to cancel plans to air the episode.

We contacted Dodge, which said it indeed was going to pull the ads. "We received a lot of interesting feedback about this ad," Kristin Starnes, head of Dodge car brand communications, wrote via e-mail. "We are planning to modify the ads to eliminate the chimpanzee part."

When I asked Starnes what Dodge feels it did wrong, Starnes said, "The ad was an innocent act only trying to be humorous. In no way did the brand intend to promote any questionable practices. With the planned modification, we are simply taking some sound advice and altering direction in respect of PETA's initiatives."

"The Dodge ad may seem innocuous, but the behind-the-scenes story of great apes who are used in advertising and entertainment is very dark," Gallucci later said. "Undercover investigations of primate trainers have revealed that chimpanzees are kicked, punched and beaten with sticks in order to make them obedient. When they reach the age of 8, they become too strong to be handled and are typically discarded at seedy roadside zoos and other substandard facilities. They can live into their 60s, so 'retirement' often means decades of misery for these intelligent and sensitive animals."

She added that many large companies have decided to no longer utilize great apes in their advertising.

RELATED CHIMPANZEE STORIES:
Patt Morrison Asks: Chimp change (2009 Q&A with primatologist Jane Goodall)
Loving chimps to death (2009 opinion article by Jane Goodall)

-- Tony Pierce
twitter.com/busblog

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