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Animals in advertising

Animals in advertising

February 9, 2024

Animals in advertising are very common. The list is endless: the Cadbury’s Gorilla, those pesky Meerkats, Coco the Kellogs Monkey, Harvey the ThinkBox dog… and for good reason behind it:

1.  In 1973 the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm used the phrase ‘biophilia’ which he described as “The passionate love of life and of all that is alive”. A term later used by Edward O. Wilson who proposed that we’re drawn to living things (or representation of such).

2.   Darwin felt we’ve ancestral ties with animals that create a direct response on our  behaviour and emotions.

3.   Budiansky (1992) cites that ‘cooperative behaviour’ happens in the wild, i.e. a mixed species flock is more powerful than a single species herd. We take animals into our home.

4.   Despite the complexities of the human-animal relationship, non-human animals have been intimately interwoven within human culture for thousands of years.

5.   Due to social conditioning, we associate different animals with different symbols or personality traits.


Gorilla illustration by Pete Barry

But is the last point evolving? Is the way we access our information diluting the way in which we perceive an animal rather than its stereotype?

In a study carried out by Philips, she asked 36 students to list words associated with animals (gorilla, raccoon, penguin, ant). Cognitive maps were then drawn noting themes associated with each animal. Titles included ‘Habitat’ and ‘Personality’.

“One of the most important reasons for the use of trade characters in advertising may be that they can be used to transfer desired meanings to the products with which they are associated.”

Barbara J Philips

Coco the Monkey

Coco the monkey

We're interested in the resilient Coco The Monkey – the little fella has had an incredible life. When he first appeared in 1958 he was called Jose and went into hiding after this caused a number of complaints by Mexican-Americans. In 2010 he became under scrutiny by the ASA for appearing on a poster dressed in a school uniform persuading children to eat Coco Pops after school (although the ASA ruled against banning the advert it upset a number of people). And it’s only recently he’s become the face associated with the sugar tax. Bad, bad monkey, though he did make it into the House of Lords.

As a brand mascot, he’s now a challenge for Kelloggs cereal. We're waiting to see if Coco Pops gets the same treatment as Sugar Puffs (now Honey Puff’s), and if it can turn negative publicity into a positive PR. And have you seen the new ‘buff’ Honey Monster btw?


All this aside, you look at Coco and what do you see? Essentially a cheeky monkey with a lot of friends who’s quick witted enough to overcome Crocs’ traps. Is he personifying the parents perception of their own child? Is he a role model for the child themselves, or is he the personification of fun and in turn chocolate?

Why a monkey?

The brand mascot for this has been an elephant, a cat, a caveman, gnomes and even a real chimpanzee. Why has the monkey stuck? What’s the cognitive map for a primate? We see a primate successfully return to PG Tips campaign, we see monkeys in the Ikea advert and we see a sad orang-utan used in the SSE advert (which we still don’t understand (‘Through fresh eyes’? It’s a monkey).

In this instance, much comes down to the humanity of the species and the fact we can identify with primates more than any other animal on the earth. It also comes down to our social conditioning; through our own media we’ve been told that monkeys are ‘cute’. Philips found that the gorilla was the only animal in the study that had ‘personality’ as a dominant theme.

Picture a Roman

But our sources are great at creating their own ‘reality’ based on very little knowledge. Take a Roman soldier. The first image you think of will probably have more of a historical background based on DeMille’s ‘Sword and Sandals’ films dating from 1934 than an accurate historical representation.

Animals are the same. The perception of them is down to social conditioning. In some parts of the world ‘man’s best friend’ the dog is viewed as ‘unhygienic’ or food. Yet in another country, dogs are treated like a baby, dressed up and wheeled around in a pram. Likewise, in India a cow is seen and treated as sacred.

But our perception of the world and how we receive information has changed so much it’s effecting the way we think.

Google – the portable hard drive – of our mind

Traditionally we would receive our information from friends and relatives. From recipes and plumbing to finance and IT. You’d always have that go-to person who would give helpful advice. Now we’ve got Google and YouTube. And this is also affecting the way in which we store information.

However, in a recent study, researchers at a plethora of esteemed American universities found that people were less likely to remember a piece of information when they had access to the internet.

“The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves” the researchers concluded.

Google is becoming a portable hard drive for our information and with this being the case we’re relying less on our memories, which may have more grounding based on our demographic than before.

Think ‘monkey’

Which brings us back to the monkeys and how our perceptions are changing. We'll just leave things here...