The animal protection campaigner Jordi Casamitjana discusses the exploitation of animals used in publicity and advertising 

I try to post it every year now.

Thanks to the “memories” function of Facebook that reminds you about the anniversaries of some popular posts you posted in previous years, now I remember about it almost every year and I repost it again.

The last time I did that was on 11th January 2023, and I added this to the re-shared post: “So far, they continue to hold their promise.” Before that, on the same day in 2022, I repost it with the addition, “this post was seven years ago, @Costacoffee, and you have kept your promise”. The original post I was sharing was posted in 2015. It contained an image of a tall glass with a low handle, full of a recently poured warm decaf soya latte — with a nice foamy top — taken indoors on an already dark evening. The glass was on a saucer, against which a paper napkin with the word “Costa” written was resting, suggesting that the photo had been taken in one of the coffee shops of the big UK chain Costa Coffee, as their logo in the background window confirmed. Above the photo, I wrote the following text: 

“I wrote to Costa’s Customer Services today, with this message: ‘Dear Sir/Madam. I am pleased to let you know that the five-year boycott of Costa Coffee that I started as a consequence of you using captive primates in your TV commercials has now ended, and as such, I have purchased one of your coffees today. As you should remember, the use of captive primates in entertainment and publicity,  which is a cruel and degrading practice, is something that many people already condemn, and because of that, a campaign to stop you from using them started more than five years ago. Fortunately, you came to your senses then and stopped the broadcasting of the commercial, but since you stopped it once the adverts had done their course, and you probably had gained some profit with them, I was forced to boycott your products until I was confident that you would be good on your promise and you would not use primates again. So, I decided to boycott your products for five years, as if you were ‘on probation’. During all this time I have not purchased any of your products, and I have persuaded all my friends and colleagues to go to your competitors when we were together looking for a place to have a hot drink. I estimate that, overall, you have lost from me at least £5,000. But you have stuck to your word and have not used captive wild animals in your publicity anymore, so I should thank you and  I am happy to resume my custom with you and let others know about it (indeed, I will be posting this with a photo of the coffee I bought today to my Facebook page for everyone to see). Best wishes.’”

Was this a ridiculous campaign? Is the issue of using wild animals (or other animals) against their will) in advertising and publicity something trivial that vegans should not be too concerned about? I don’t think it is. I think this is as important as the issue of using animals in circuses or keeping “exotic pets” — which most ethical vegans oppose to. Let’s discuss this for a bit.    

Another Form of Animal Exploitation 

Photo By David Tadevosian via Shutterstock (Royalty-free stock photo ID: 588655523)

Ethical vegans (those who follow the definition of veganism of the Vegan Society to the full) seek to avoid all forms of animal exploitation, no matter the purpose. Is the use of animals in advertising animal exploitation? It certainly is. In my book “Ethical Vegan”, I looked at what animal exploitation means, and I concluded that “animal exploitation is any use of any animal for profit, social gain, ritual, leisure, work or subsistence in which the animal is not a willing participant, or has been physically or psychologically coerced to participate. It is any human action on animals which violates their body autonomy (the right to govern what happens to their body) and their informed consent (permission given after understanding the implications of the action) if the animals are still capable of making positive choices about their lives.” Using animals for commercial ads is using them for profit, and the animals involved, no matter if they are domesticated or wild, have not given their informed consent for that use as they do not understand the implications of their participation. This is animal exploitation in my book, so ethical vegans should not be supporting it. 

However, if the ad is not for profit, but to highlight a case of animal cruelty or abuse, I don’t think this is advertising, but journalistic reporting or social justice campaigning, and the lack of informed consent could be excused. They may be other situations where the animals are not used as such, just recorded without them noticing, that I think are vegan-friendly. The problem of lack of consent is not about the use of the images, but about the performance of the actions the ads’ producers make the animals do. If an animal in the wild is not being disturbed in any way while recorded from a long distance, I don’t see any problem in using the footage unless it is to glorify an unethical activity (such as trophy hunting or keeping animals in zoos). The same goes with companion animals (and rescued sanctuary animals) that are interacting with their guardians doing what they normally do in their familiar environments. But if there is training involved, if the animals are forced or psychologically coerced to perform certain acts, then I think the line has been crossed.  

If in addition to performing for the ad, the animals are captive wild animals (“exotic pets” or zoo inmates), then using them in advertising would not only be incompatible with veganism, but we are talking about animal abuse that even non-vegan animal lovers would oppose. These animal spend their entire life in captivity against their will, and they are often trained with very cruel methods that either involve pain, fear, or adverse coercion. For instance, investigators of the UK animal rights organisation Freedom for Animals went undercover at the premises of animal trainers “Amazing Animals” (which supply animal “actors” for films, TV shows, popstar music videos and TV adverts)  and witnessed lions and tigers in a cage being forced to perform unnatural tricks, jumping from podiums, standing on their back legs and roaring on command. If countries have banned this sort of performance of wild animals in circuses, they should also ban them in films and TV commercials.  

The way these animals are kept is also a problem. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspected Birds & Animals Unlimited (BAU) and cited it for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act. BAU, operated by Hollywood animal trainer Gary Gero, provides animals for use in films, television, and advertisements. According to PETA, an eyewitness who worked at BAU documented chronic neglect, including sick and injured animals who went without adequate veterinary care, filthy enclosures, and animals who were denied food so that they would be hungry when being trained to do tricks.

Unfortunately, the use of animals in advertising has been common. Animal Defenders International (ADI) has a list of the companies that have used animals in their advertising so their error is not forgotten. It includes big companies such as Barclaycard, Bosch, Cadillac, Coca-Cola, Dolce & Gabbana, Guinness, Toyota, and Unilever.  

The Legality of the Use of Animals in Advertisement

Photo By Helen Sushitskaya via Shutterstock (Royalty-free stock photo ID: 1839479989)

We see all sorts of animals used in TV commercials because using them is legal in most countries. Although general animal protection legislation (such as the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in the UK or the federal Animal Welfare Act in the US) applies to the use of animals in films and TV, most countries do not have any specific legislation for this matter — and for the ones that do have it, it tends to focus on registering the training and use of the animals, rather than prohibiting any animal for being used in adverts. 

The UK has the Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925 that requires trainers and exhibitors of performing animals to be registered with the local authority. Under this act, the police and officers of local councils, have the power to enter premises where animals are being trained and exhibited, and if cruelty and neglect are detected, magistrates’ courts can prohibit or restrict the training or exhibition of the animals and suspend or cancel the registration granted under the act. Some other laws may be relevant to the use of animals in advertising in the UK, which include, the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937, the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, the Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006, the Welfare of Animals (Transport) (Wales) Order 2007, the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007, the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Wales) Regulations, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and similar legislation for Scotland. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) has also issued Guidelines for the Welfare of Performing Animals, but these have no statutory power. 

In Australia, there is an Animal Welfare (Animals Used on Film Sets) Code of Practice 2010, made under section 22 of the Animal Welfare Act 1992, that applies to the production of films for cinema, television, recreational or educational purposes, including features, documentaries, serials, videos and advertising commercials. It states that a person or company using animals for film production has a legal liability under the Animal Welfare Act 1992 to ensure that each animal receives appropriate and adequate food, water, shelter, and exercise. It is also a requirement of the Nature Conservation Act 1980 that anyone intending to capture a native animal for any purpose must apply for a licence under Section 545 (1) of that Act. Different Australian states have also their code of practice

Currently, no federal or state law specifically governs the use of animals in filmed media in the US. The only regulation directly protecting animals forced to perform in films and ads is the industry-based American Humane Association’s (AHA) guidelines. The Motion Picture Association of America directly empowered the AHA to monitor how animals are treated in Screen Actors Guild movies, television, commercials, and music shows. The AHA’s Guidelines are just guidances that producers are advised to follow, but not punished if they do not. Besides, ad producers are not normally aware of how the animals they use were trained as they outsourced them to specialised companies, and veterinarians are not always present during the shooting.  

Not everything is allowed regarding using animals in advertising. Some jurisdictions have bodies that monitor adverts and can remove them if they consider that rules have been broken. For instance, the Committee of Advertising Practice Ltd. (CAP) in the UK says, “Regardless of the content of the ad, all animals featured should be well looked after and must not be harmed or distressed in the process. CAP recommends seeking the support of a veterinarian or other relevant expert in the health and welfare of animals to ensure that they are properly treated and cared for throughout production.”  Rule 6.3 of the BCAP Code requires that an ad featuring an animal must not be broadcast without evidence that the animal has not been killed, caused pain or suffered distress. 

However, the majority of the complaints regarding animals are not upheld by CAP, which seems to be far closer to the advertising companies than the animals they use. For instance, an ad from car manufacturer Volkswagon featuring a dog behaving confidently inside a car but timidly outside attracted 733 complaints from UK viewers, who felt that the dog shown outside the car appeared to be in distress and that the ad could promote animal cruelty. A John Lewis (a big general store) Christmas ad in 2010 which featured a dog outside in the snow attracted over 300 complaints. A Morrison’s ad (a UK supermarket chain) prompted 234 complaints for showing a dog being fed Christmas pudding, which apparently contains ingredients harmful to dogs if consumed in large quantities. The UK pharmacy chain Boots had an ad for the 2021 Christmas that showed a child styling her dog’s fur with a hairdryer, which received 21 complaints for promoting potentially harmful behaviour toward animals. The Advertisement Standards Authority (ASA) rejected all these complaints — in a world where animals have no legal rights, regulation is often tokenistic.

As seen in some of these complaints, one of the potential problems is emulation. Animals shown in advertising could make people do things to other animals they should not be doing (like feeding them dangerous food). For instance, an ad which included a young child sitting on the back of a large dog was considered by some too problematic. The RSPCA in the UK complained that the scene was irresponsible as it could encourage and condone emulation, resulting in harm. The ASA has some guidance about the use of animals in adverts regarding emulation. It says “Particular care is advised when showing animals being fed or eating something that could harm them, and marketers must ensure this isn’t likely to lead to dangerous emulation. The ASA received over 200 complaints about an ad which showed a dog being fed Christmas pudding and although the ASA didn’t consider the ad likely to cause harm in that case and felt that, generally speaking, pet owners would know not to feed their animals foods which are poor for their diets – marketers need to make sure their ads don’t condone or encourage behaviour that could harm animals.”

The Abuse of Non-Human Primates 

ADI Costa Caffee Campaign 2010

Since the invention of advertising, people have been exploiting animals forcing them to perform to do their advertising for them. All sorts of animals have been used, but perhaps the most notorious have been non-human primates. Live monkeys and apes are often portrayed in the media as ridiculous caricatures of humans, dressed in human clothing and trained to do tricks on command with little regard for their welfare. Many nonhuman primates used as if they were “actors” in commercials are often removed from their mothers shortly after birth and are denied opportunities for normal social and psychological development.

A famous long TV ad campaign in the UK involving chimps was run by the tea company PG Tips. Their group of anthropomorphic dressed-up chimpanzees first appeared on Christmas Day in 1956, having been inspired by the despicable chimps’ tea parties at London Zoo. They stopped in the 1970s after complaints by animal rights organisations, but the chimps were used again 18 months later because their sales dropped, and the last “Tipps family” advert was broadcasted in January 2002. 

In 2003, an advert featuring tracksuit-clad chimpanzees riding bicycles caused more than 150 complaints and a call for a boycott of Halfords, the retail chain that was using them to advertise their car and bike equipment. The Captive Animals’ Protection Society said the ad sparked more calls to its office in a short space of time than the PG Tips’ infamous chimps ads ever did.

You may be wondering what was in the Costa Coffee 60-second TV advert that led to that campaign I mentioned at the beginning. It was produced on 1st October 2010 by Karmarama, an advertising agency based in London and founded in 2000. It features many monkeys of several species (seven rhesus monkeys, a squirrel monkey, two mandrills, and six marmosets) in a large room with many coffee machines. After gradually exploring all the objects, they end up breaking the machines and making a mess of everything. A voiceover accompanying the images says the following: “It is said that if you give a roomful of monkeys a typewriter each, in time, they’ll write the entire works of Shakespeare. So, if we gave the monkeys coffee machines instead, would they come up with the perfect cup of coffee? No, because great coffee isn’t born of luck. It takes time and training to be an expert barista. Not all coffees are created equal.”

The reason that I am replicating the text here (and even giving a link to the ad) is to illustrate how easy is to forget that the animals involved were wild animals kept captive against their will. On the face of a cleverly worded ad with witty double meanings and interesting cultural references, we easily get absorbed by the “artistic” dimension of its design and forget the “cruelty” dimension of its execution. We think about the appeal of the product they are selling (delicious sophisticated warm coffee), we think about the clever design of the publicity concept (playing with ideas and clichés), we think about the professional camera work and editing (nice sequences and classical music), and we think about the soothing voice of the narrator (surely a professional voice-over actor), but we do not think about the monkeys, about who they are, about what people needed to do to them to get them to do what they did.  Even if we see them, we don’t see them. This is what is wrong with using animals in advertising, publicity, and entertainment. The individuals behind the “actors” are erased against their will.   

When the ad was aired several animal protection organisations complained, not just me. Wild Futures, the Born Free Foundation, the International Primate Protection League, the Captive Animals’ Protection Society (now called Freedom for Animals) and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (now called Cruelty Free International), all wrote complaints. Rachel Havesi, of Wild Futures (which runs the Monkey Sanctuary in Cornwall where I used to work in the late 1990s), said to the Guardian, “with the release of this new advert, we feel the need to reiterate our long-held concerns on the use of wild animals in entertainment. While they are used in this way their welfare is severely compromised, and it has a knock-on effect on the trade in primates as pets. We are appealing to COSTA to pull the advert and reconsider its stance on the use of wild animals in future campaigns. What sits particularly uncomfortably with us is that COSTA is one of the coffee companies whose products are endorsed by Rainforest Alliance. To carry this well-respected accreditation and then to exploit rainforest animals in the sale of its products is an issue that we have raised with Rainforest Alliance directly. We are awaiting a formal response.”

The primates used had to be removed from their social group for filming, which could have been in contravention of the five freedoms on which the Animal Welfare Act 2006 was based. The monkeys would have spent hours being transported to and from the television studios where the ad was filmed, and that would most likely have had an impact on their welfare. And, apparently, this happened to them before. Jim Slater, marketing director at Costa in 2010, said to the Guardian: “The monkeys were provided by a specialist organisation and have appeared in movies and on TV many times before.”  This was said as if it was a justification for using them — imagine any abuser saying as a defence that his victims were used to his abuse, as they had been abused before. 

Animal Defenders International (ADI) also called to boycott Costa Coffee over the TV advert. They asked their supporters to write to the company and also carried out demonstrations at Costa Coffee shops throughout central London. Jan Creamer, the co-founder of ADI, said at the time, “ADI and the majority of the general public will be appalled and bemused by this advertisement, and at a loss to understand Costa´s motivation. At a time when 48% of primate species are endangered, this is an incredibly misguided advert, as it validates the trade in primates and their use in human entertainment. The use of wild animals in advertisements has never been acceptable and more and more companies have realised this and wouldn´t dream of using them — there are plenty of alternatives, including computer-generated images.”

The company that supplied the monkeys for the adverts was Amazing Animals, a major supplier of animals for television, advertising and films, based in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, UK. Footage recorded by ADI at Amazing Animals showed how performing animals often endure intimidation, deprivation and violence to make them conform. Having seen ADI footage of the training techniques used, the eyeglasses company Vision Express, which had used monkeys for an advertising campaign before, committed not to use wild animals in the future.

Eventually, Costa also responded that they would not use primates anymore — and that is when I wrote them letting them know of my extended five-year “probation” boycott. Other campaigns to stop the use of primates in advertising have been successful. In 2009, an EU stop smoking advert using primates was stopped, and in 2010, Dodge, the car manufacturer, heeded similar concerns from PETA when it used a chimp in an advert.

Not only vegans oppose the use of non-human primates in the media. The International Primatological Society opposed it too, citing that the use of nonhuman primates in the advertisement industry “often involves aversive techniques to maintain control of these animals, the inappropriate portrayal of nonhuman primates inaccurately conveys their biology and conservation status and may affect public attitudes including those in range countries where interactions with these animals have potentially damaging consequences, and evidence suggests that many nonhuman primate species are susceptible to many of the pathogenic infections that afflict humans and the transmission of infection can occur in both directions, especially in performing circumstances in which primates are in direct proximity with public audiences, including children and the elderly.” I would say this applies to all wild animals, not only primates.

Vegans Do Not Support Any Type of Animal Exploitation

Horses exploited during the recording of an ad in London (c) Jordi Casamitjana

The good news is that since the Costa monkeys campaign, I don’t remember having seen any other advert in the UK that used primates — although as I don t watch commercial television anymore I have stopped watching adverts for some years now, so it could be that I have missed some. I am sure, however, that many other animals, domesticated or wild, are still being used in advertising in the UK and other countries. Last year, I caught a production company recording an ad in my local park in London with a herd of black horses. The horses, who did not appear relaxed at all, were spooked into galloping again and again for each repeated take, after herding them into a fenced area where they did not seem to want to be kept. I did not see actors in them. I did not see performers. I did not see willing participants. I saw exploited animals forced to perform against their will.   

Ethical vegans like myself are against any animal exploitation, so we are against forcing (or training) any animal to perform for the advertising industry. Not only primates, not only wild animals but all animals. If they have been removed from their natural settings, kept captive against their will, trained to perform certain tasks under the penalty of pain, distress, or hunger, and put in stressful or uncomfortable situations when they want to be somewhere else doing something else, it does not matter if they are chimps or dogs, they have been exploited in a way not compatible with veganism. For an ethical vegan, those responsible for that exploitation are not only the animal trainers, the “handlers”, and those who keep them in captivity, but also the ad directors, the ad producers, and the companies which hired them to advertise their products. Therefore, if we do not want to be participating in such exploitation, not only we should not support the marketing and advertising companies that use animals, but we should not buy the products or services of the brands who employ them to advertise with animals — at least until they recognise their mistake and pledge not to do it again. 

We, vegans, care about all sentient beings and are against all forms of exploitation because we do not class either in a hierarchical way from better to worse. We do not eat eggs even if pigs killed for their flesh may seem that have had a worse deal than the hens whose eggs were stolen, because we care about the individual animals and any type of suffering we can avoid is worth avoiding. We do not go to zoos even if animals living in factory farms seem to be living a worse life, for the same reason. Equally, we boycott products advertised with animals even though animals used in other industries seem to be suffering more. We are consistent in not wanting to harm anyone and we are non-speciesists, which are two of the fundamental principles of veganism. We are busy boycotting products because we care about everyone.

Interestingly enough, I am boycotting the plant-based products of Costa Coffee again. This time is not because of the primates, but because of the cows. The UK vegan organisation Viva!’ launched recently an exposé of the despicable conditions cows are kept at the Home Farm in Kent, England. The undercover footage they obtained showed workers slapping and kicking cows, some of whom had to have their legs shackled to prevent them from sliding in the filthy conditions. This dairy farm supplies cow’s milk to Freshways, a milk supplier to Costa Coffee, Iceland, Caffe Nero, Nisa, Budgens, Londis and British Airways. As a consequence, Viva! has decided to campaign asking these companies to stop using milk from Home Farm. They started with Costa Coffee, with the campaign named The True Costa Dairy. A nationwide “Day of Action” took place on 28th January where activists protested in front of the Costa stores in Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, and Manchester, and the next one will take place on 11th March. So I, again, am boycotting this company (and all the others that still take milk from this farm) at least until this particular campaign is successful. 

This is what we vegans do, boycott stuff linked to animal exploitation. Some boycott more products than others, some avoid more services than others, and some focus their time and energy on some campaigns more than others, but the idea is the same. Saying NO to animal exploitation when we can, where we can, and how we can.

I try to do it every year, every month, and every day.

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.