Pfizer changes Robitussin ad

November 9th, 2010 by Diana

Primate Patrol is an advocacy branch of CSNW that is dedicated to ending the exploitation of great apes in entertainment. If you are not already signed up for Primate Patrol action alerts, sign up here: and be sure to like the Primate Patrol Facebook page.

Volunteer Debbie has been busy this summer and fall sending out alerts to the list, and we’ve seen positive results. Combined with other organizations and activists, we’ve reached Dodge, Whatcom Educational Credit Union, and now Pfizer.

At the end of this post is the alert about Pfizer’s decision to change their recent ad for Robitussin that featured an orangutan. The orangutan, Suryia, is owned by a facility called The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.). You’ve probably seen photos and videos of Suryia with a dog along with a story about their “friendship.”  Photos of a young chimpanzee pictured with a baby white tiger that have circulated widely are also from T.I.G.E.R.S.

T.I.G.E.R.S. is a confusing organization. They claim to work for conservation, yet they train the animals in their care to perform and regularly exploit them for all sorts of entertainment purposes. They breed animals and pride themselves on putting on live shows with exotic animals, including ligers, which are a hybrid species not seen in the wild. They allow visitors to get up close and personal and “cuddle” with potentially dangerous animals, which we all know is a recipe for disaster and not in the best interest of the animals. For film use they offer that if they don’t own a particular species of animal, they “can find it.”  T.I.G.E.R.S. in the business of exploiting exotic animals for profit, and Pfizer was apparently able to see this after being contacted by great ape activists.

The altered ad that Pfizer released could still be considered problematic. The human actor/computer generated chimpanzee that replaced Suyria the orangutan is actually quite good, and people may not realize he is not a real chimpanzee, so the message of great apes being funny creatures to laugh at is still present in the ad. However, Pfizer has agreed to never again use primates in advertising and they have gone to some expense to “walk their talk” by changing the commercial. They have shown that computer animation is as good if not better than using great ape actors, and they explain on the ad on their website that the chimpanzee is a “human actor enhanced by digital effects.”

Personally, I have always drawn inspiration from activist Henry Spira, and I count Peter Singer’s book Ethics into Action as one of my favorites.  I believe that this move by corporations like Dodge and Pfizer and Bodum to use computer generated great apes or other marketing techniques, even if those apes are depicted as silly, is what Spira called “moving the peanut forward.”

We welcome your views on the ad and this new move towards computer animation.

Here’s the Primate Patrol action alert that was sent out yesterday:

November 8, 2010

As many of you may know, Robitussin recently aired two commercials starring Suryia, a young orangutan “actor.” Pfizer, Robitussin’s parent company, listened to great ape advocates regarding the treatment of apes in entertainment. The company chose to remove the scenes featuring Suryia and instead replace him with a computer-generated chimpanzee.

Thank you to all our supporters that contacted Pfizer with their concerns about this marketing campaign! Go here to see Pfizer’s new and progressive commercial. Click on the video link on the right of the page.

The CGI in the new commercial shows that live apes do not need to be exploited for entertainment purposes. Pfizer has made the compassionate pledge to never exploit primates in any of their commercials again.

You may remember that earlier this year Dodge chose to alter a commercial with a chimpanzee “actor” as well. Using alternative marketing images rather than live animals is a growing trend in the advertising community, and we hope that Pfizer has helped set an example for other corporations.

This development would not have been accomplished without a growing public awareness of the inherent cruelty involved in using apes for entertainment purposes. We want to thank you for your involvement in this movement – your efforts are essential in creating a voice for abused and exploited apes. Please share this exciting news with your friends, and continue to spread the word about the issues surrounding primates in entertainment. You can make a difference!

Also take a look at PETA’s press release regarding this campaign.

6 Responses to “Pfizer changes Robitussin ad”

  1. Peter Cross (UK) says:

    Once again good news comes from all the hard work by the likes of Debbie, primate patrol and CSNW. It seems so easy for these companies to set up their ads using live animal “actors” but twice as hard to try to stop the message. Through this hard work though it is getting through to the people that make the decisions. They should realise that we turn off from their product when we see animals in ads now. The “cute factor” was decades ago. It has been a slow process but the reality of what happens behind the scenes of these ads is hitting home. I have thought for a long time with all the CGI technology used in films like Shrek, Disney and Pixar etc, the extra hard work of “training and handling” should make live animals redundant and be left alone to live their lives still in the wild or sanctuaries like yours. Great work once again, all the best. .

  2. Cindy says:

    I saw the new commercial with the CGI chimp the other day and it was good CGI but at least to me it was obviously CGI and I was pleased to see the change. One peanut at a time – maybe at some point an indication that CGI and not live animals were used (not unlike the information at the bottom of political ads) could be added. That might raise awareness and provoke thought and conversation about the situation. Important steps toward change!

  3. Linda (Portland, OR) says:

    Saw the chimp-animated commercial last night for the first time. Very happy to see the changes they made. I also think it’s important to send an email back to Pfizer thanking them for making the changes.

    Let’s here it for those computer animation technicians! Eventually we’ll get through the entire animal spectrum and there won’t be anything on TV or in movies, except computer animated animals. I’m sure they will be busy for quite awhile!

    Never underestimate the passion we have for keeping all these amazing animals safe!!

    Great email Diana. Kudos to Debbie as well!!

  4. Amy M. says:

    I feel more comfortable the less lifelike the chimp/orang/animal is. The problem is that people may still think it’s a real primate. the Lincoln Park Zoo did a study a couple years ago that showed that when chimps are used in entertainment, people are less likely to think the are endangered as a species. You can read about the study here —

    TIGERS is a complete sham. They have ONE elephant. Anyone who knows anything about elephants knows you never have just ONE. The AZA’s minimum is three and even that’s not enough.

  5. Barbara Boekholt says:

    I had seen the Robitussin ad and felt very uncomfortable with it. But I did nothing. Thank goodness some of you did. Thankyou and also thanks to Pfizer for changing their ads.

  6. debbie metzler says:

    thanks diana! it’s so great to see a growing trend with companies just from this summer and fall, and makes me proud to be able to speak up for those who cannot be heard.