Rodeos, Bull riding, National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), ads with animals...you name it and I have likely run into the issues that come with participating and sponsoring those events. When I was responsible for the marketing communications efforts at Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler, I ran into the obstacles and political entanglements that are unavoidable in those situations. So, why do it, you might ask? Well, to stick with the wildlife theme, people who sell cars like to fish where the fish were. Said otherwise, our customers not only attended these events but they were also enthusiastic fans of it and paid a great deal of attention to those brands that supported those passions.
When it comes to the sponsoring of events that feature animals, we are all interested in humanely treating animals while enjoying the sport to its fullest. My best experience with regards to this treatment was with the NTRA. The breeders, owners, trainers, and riders of these horses are beyond humane. I dare say that most people would hope to have the care, attention and love showered over them that these horses experience every day.
But what about advertising showing animals? I would submit that the exact same argument holds. I have done a few ads (notable a not very good Super Bowl Ad for Dodge back in 2005) with animals, even apes, in them. Some were good, some not so good but always we required our agency to find trainers and animal keepers that had exemplary records.
I have been on record before saying that the use of animals in an ad is usually a sign of desperation from the advertiser (animals and babies are usually a tell) and the latest ad from Dodge for the summer tent event is no exception. In fact, just last week, AOL ran my blog post about the worst ads of summer and the Dodge Tent Event made the list. But this week, things have changed a bit.
?Dodge, no stranger to controversy and demands from PETA, received a complaint from the aforementioned agency. PETA made the following statement: "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."
??So, Dodge, in its righteous glory, edited the ape out of the ad. No, they didn't change the ad and remove the part of the ad featuring the chimp as one might expect, instead, they made the chimp invisible. For those of you that have been put through the pain of watching that ad over and over again, you may not have even noticed because you have started to tune it out. But take a look here and see the invisible ape at work.
In an ironic twist, the mediocre ad, with the monotone voiceover from Michael C. Hall (star of Dexter), has now gotten a big boost from the PETA controversy and the ensuing "invisible" response. In fact, the story behind the new ad now makes the ad interesting and even kind of funny. That is not to say that what PETA represents is a laughing matter, on the contrary, it is an important issue to protect animals.
It seems to me that PETA would be better served to pick fights with companies and problems that can gain them the most public support and are the most obvious in terms of their affront to our animal sensibilities. When PETA takes a very mundane and inoffensive ad such as the Dodge Tent Sale ad, they do themselves a disservice by appearing petty and out of touch. There are plenty of worthy fights to be had for our wildlife friends, but this is not one of them.
In fact, Dodge may want to send them a thank you note. Nobody would have even given this ad a second look if not for the publicity.