Monkeys are popular on the big screen and small screen alike. Ross had Marcel on Friends. BJ and the Bear made it through 48 episodes in the 1970s. Dieter was constantly imploring people to touch his monkey, Klaus, on Saturday Night Live's "Sprockets." Cars, bikes, and primates had a good run in the late '70s and early '80s, as Clint Eastwood roamed the country seeking bare-knuckle brawls as Philo Beddoe, his partner in crime the beer-drinking, hard-fighting orangutan Clyde in Every Which Way But Loose and its sequel Any Which Way You Can. The list goes on.
More recent examples of famous primates can be found in the Hangover and Pirates of the Caribbean among many others. But times have changed--for carmakers, at least.
Now, car companies are being pressured to self-censor if they should include a monkey in an ad. Nearly four years ago, Dodge digitally extracted a monkey from its end-of-the-year clearance ad after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) decried the treatment monkeys endure for their use as television characters--or props.
PETA has a fair point, of course. Monkeys used for stage purposes are often pulled from their families as babies, raised alone, and kept in cages most of their lives. Worse, their popularity on-screen translates into popularity in the homes of many private individuals, who learn after the fact that caring for a monkey can be rather more involved and demanding than expected, resulting in neglect or abuse.
The latest example of PETA's mission to remove monkeys from popular culture--or at least from advertising--is Volkswagen's Super Bowl teaser ad. If you're trying to remember what role the monkey played in that ad, you're not alone: the capuchin monkey that raised PETA's hackles was only on-screen for a few seconds at the very end of the spot.
But Volkswagen has pulled the whole ad as penance for those few seconds. You can still see the teaser ad above [update: the ad is no longer available due to copyright claims by Volkswagen], though Volkswagen has pulled it from all official distribution channels.
PETA is, predictably, rather pleased with Volkswagen's reaction to their pressure.
"PETA signaled Volkswagen to stop using primates, and the company immediately put the brakes on any ads that could cause cruelty to monkeys used and abused for entertainment," said PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman in a statement. "Volkswagen's decision is kind and savvy, because today's consumers want nothing to do with an industry that tears primates from their mothers' arms and cages them for life."
The capuchin expressing its distress at the end of the commercial wasn't the only animal in Volkswagen's teaser ad--several rather cute puppies and a pony dressed as a unicorn were also featured briefly. PETA hasn't expressed any concerns over the use of these non-primates--not even the cross-bred Doberhuahua of Volkswagen Group brand Audi. Yes, that was CGI, but the premise--which even uses SPCA spokesperson Sarah McLachlan as part of the setup--seems at least as likely to draw ire for the misdeeds of some commercial breeders.
Volkswagen's Super Bowl ad that followed the teaser (below) has raised issues of its own, too. Featuring a group of engineers growing wings as the brand's cars passed 100,000 miles, the ad is an obvious play on a classic theme. But it's also devoid of any female engineers--a mistake so huge as to defy a lack of intent. Despite widespread criticism of the ad, Volkswagen has yet to make any official statement.
Monkeys, on the other hand, receive instant contrition. Perhaps it comes down to budget--pulling an ad that cost millions of dollars for its brief Super Bowl run just doesn't make as much bottom-line sense as nipping the brief teaser that preceded it, regardless of the message it sends.