Animals, the non-human kind, have generally had a rough spin when it comes to their treatment by homo sapiens – ever since they first came into our contact. We have hunted them, eaten them, enslaved them, annihilated them and subjected them to a multitude of indignities. It’s a lousy record indeed but it hasn’t hindered their constant exploitation when it comes to the modern commercial setting.
Australia has a pathetic record when it comes to the extinction of native animals but that’s not prevented health insurer HBF and their advertising agency Leo Burnett, using the endangered quokka as the focus of their current campaign. There doesn’t seem to be any conservation message in the current TV commercial which features a choir of computer generated quokkas singing a parody of Foreigner’s I Wanna Know What Love Is.
Superficially it might not seem all that misguided. After all, who doesn’t love a somewhat comical, furry little critter – like the ‘Russian’ meerkats featured in the Compare The Market adverts. If they touch our heartstrings and have us rushing out to buy health insurance, then the advertising agency has done a great job.
On the other hand some might see it as an endorsement of the long held belief that such animals are only there for our enjoyment, as a tourist attraction on Rottnest Island or caged up in a wildlife park. If HBF is that fond of the quokka, maybe they should make a sizeable donation to their conversation. There are less than 20,000 left in the wild!
Adverts on commercial TV are currently littered with the anthropomorphic, paralleling a trend in movies, network programs and children’s cartoons that has been with us for decades. We all know animals don’t talk but try telling that to Disney, Bugs Bunny or the creators of Mr Ed, the 60s ‘talking horse’.
It’s a curious dichotomy, whereby we often regard animals as dumb and stupid, guided only by instinct, but are happy to endow them with human intelligence and the power of speech for our own entertainment. I’m sure psychologists who have studied the phenomenon would have much to say as to our deep rooted motivation but personally I’m sick to death of animals that talk.
Back in 1999, American adman Chuck McBride asked whether the recent spate of talking animal commercials would ever quite down. He wrote: “A lot of people in this business have been very busy making real animals look like they can talk… it’s sort of creepy how many talking animals are out there. I can now laugh at a friend’s campaign that uses talking dogs because, as he recently mentioned, he could. And why not? The, ‘Everyone is doing it so I’ll do it too to make fun of them.’”
Unfortunately the numerous advances in computer generated animation have opened the door for an onslaught of talking critters in the ensuing decades. Children are now conditioned to see animals that speak from Skipper in Madagascar to Babe the piglet. Give me the decidedly non talkative Lassie or Skippy The Bush Kangaroo any day.
Is there any evidence to suggest that kids who encounter anthropomorphised animals in their formative years grow up to have a more empathetic view of the real thing? Maybe we will all know in another decade or more.
In the meantime if we are to give endangered animals a human voice, let them speak the truth. Quenton the quokka says “Fuck off, I hate Foreigner and I’m not flogging health insurance anymore”. Kenny the kangaroo chimes in, “Hey, I don’t want to end up as pet food”. Whilst Craig the Koala sings, “Give me a bloody home amongst the gumtrees.”