Corporate Eye

PETA Targets CareerBuilder Ads with Angelica Huston’s Help

CareerBuilder has gotten positive feedback from consumers on its humorous television commercials featuring chimpanzees that debuted in 2005. The ads were a viewer favorite during the 2011 Super Bowl, so the company plans to feature the apes again in its upcoming 2012 Super Bowl commercials.

As AdAge reports, the ads scored well in terms of likability, but not as well in terms of persuasion. Despite those results from Ace Metrix, CareerBuilder announced the chimpanzees would return for the 2012 Super Bowl and posted an ad spot online, which you can view below.

Now, CareerBuilder has more problems than lack of persuasive power for its ads featuring chimpanzees. This week, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released a letter from award-winning actress Angelica Huston asking CareerBuilder to stop using apes in its ads. Huston’s letter to CareerBuilder’s CEO, Matt Ferguson, is particularly compelling. For example, in response to the company’s claim that it’s acceptable to use chimpanzees in ads because an animal monitor and trainer is on set during production, Huston writes:

“Having a monitor on the set does not forgive the fact that you have paid to have these bright and social young apes torn from their mothers and subjected to confusing and often abusive training. These animals will likely be sold after a few years to some cheap roadside zoo or traveling show, where they will be condemned to cramped cages, left to suffer from extreme loneliness and sink into despair. And for what? It is astonishing that you are unmoved by the videos, photographs, and case reports of what befalls these animals from the moment they are taken from their mothers to the moment they die.”

The New York Daily News reports that CareerBuilder spent $3.5 million for its 30-second spot during the Super Bowl.

“Ferguson told Forbes the chimp ads have helped dramatically increase CareerBuilder’s market share since they began running in 2005. They are worth the price, he said, which this year averages $3.5 million for a 30-second spot.”

Regardless of how you feel about PETA, CareerBuilder, these ads, or Angelica Huston, this is a story that brand managers need to be aware of, particularly brands with broad audiences. It’s challenging to put together messaging, commercials, brand experiences, and so on that appeal to the masses. No matter what you do, someone is likely to dislike it. However, it’s the company’s responsibility to understand the various ways that messages, ads, and branded experiences might be received and interpreted by consumers. Remember, consumers build brands, not companies. If their perceptions of your brand are skewed against the image you’re trying to create, your brand is in big trouble.

While it’s likely many consumers who have viewed the CareerBuilder ads were not aware of how chimpanzees are treated when their time in Hollywood is over, the word is spreading quickly now. Thanks to the social web, the days of this type of story only spreading to a small audience are long gone. The image Huston paints in her full letter (follow the link above to read it and view an accompanying video) definitely makes the case that it’s not worth it for a brand to put these animals in ads.

The lesson to learn is this — understand how your brand messages, ads, and experiences might be perceived by larger audiences and how those perceptions could affect your target audience’s perceptions. Influence can come from all directions these days, including PETA and Angelica Huston. Cast a wide net when you examine your target audience’s sphere of influence.

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.