"It becomes really ridiculous," says Amy Rhodes, the PETA cruelty caseworker who drafted the letter to Capital One. "It shows these chimpanzees and orangutans dressed in human clothing and acting like humans."
Many viewers might find the gimmick silly and harmless, Rhodes says, but they're unaware of what the apes endure to become television actors. PETA maintains that, as babies, the animals are yanked from their mothers and taught to perform tricks by means of electric shocks, confinement, beating and starving.
Hence the letter, backed by renowned primate researcher Jane Goodall, urging Capital One to prohibit further use of animals,
Pam Robinson, spokeswoman for Capital One, says the company is fine with the ad and has no plans to change it. The American Humane Association oversaw every aspect of production, she says, including special effects, makeup and costumes.
"The AHA not only inspected facilities where the animals were housed and cared- for during production," Robinson says, "but also even examined the props and sets to ensure the well-being of each animal remained a top priority."
PETA dismisses the AHA's stamp of approval. Rhodes cites a 2001 article in the Los Angeles Times that casts doubt on the association's vigilance in the entertainment industry.
Rhodes also sent letters to five other corporations that have aired commercials featuring primates this year. In addition to being cruel, she says, they're way behind the times because viewers aren't impressed by animal stunts anymore.
Company research shows otherwise, Robinson says. "We have found that customers actually like these commercials," she says of the Capital One spot, "but anyhow we do value any input like this that we get."
She adds, "It's been a good ad for us."
MELISSA SCOTT SINCLAIR