Sexy Ad Campaign Targeting Monkeys Makes A Splash

By Veronique Greenwood | June 30, 2011 1:21 pm

spacing is important

“Advertising for monkeys” is just too good a phrase to pass up.

Even since ads created for a study investigating whether monkeys respond to billboards debuted at the Cannes Lions ad conference, the headlines have been flowing freely. We learn Yale primatologist Laurie Santos and two ad executives came up with the idea at last year’s TED, after Santos gave a talk on her experiments showing that monkeys that learn to use money are as irrational about it as we are.

Ad firm Proton has now developed two billboards to hang outside capuchin monkeys’ enclosures, and the researchers plan to see whether they will prefer one kind of food, or “brand,” over another when it is shown in close proximity to some titillating photos, including a “graphic shot” of a female monkey exposing her genitals and a shot of the troop’s alpha male with the food.

Once the monkeys have been exposed to the ads for brand A, scientists will see whether they show a preference for it over brand B, which won’t be supported with a campaign. In essence, they’ll investigate whether sex sells for monkeys. Brand A will be a hit, one of the execs predicts: “Monkeys have been shown in previous studies to really love photographs of alpha males and shots of genitals, and we think this will drive their purchasing habits.” (via New Scientist)

The study has even made its way to the Colbert Report, where host Stephen Colbert suggested that the key to rebooting the economy is using these ads to bilk monkeys out of their money.

But the study hasn’t happened yet. The buzz is impressive, but we’re looking forward to reading the paper that Santos et al. put out when they’re done. Whether sex sells or not, it’ll be an interesting addition to Santos’ theories that that irrational behavior might be hardwired into primate brains. If sex does seem to sell, it would also be intriguing to see whether billboards showing brand A without any supporting images have the same effect. If that were the case, it would indicate that familiarity, not sex, would be doing the selling.

If this were a study with humans, at this point the researchers would have to search out folks who missed the headlines to participate. Luckily monkeys, for all their smarts, don’t read the news.

Image credit: L’oeil / flickr

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