A friend who's a former ad man sent an e-mail that simply says, “And this is a real commercial.”
Attached was a video clip. Turns out, it's one of four TV spots touting a fake product but a real dealership, the Suburban Auto Group, selling Fords, Chevys and Suzukis in Sandy, OR, south of Portland.
All four ads have aired locally. They were also on www.suburbanautogroup.com. “But in one week on a dedicated server we had 3 million downloads and had to shut them off,” says Les Dalrymple, Suburban's Internet manager. “We'll try again soon and hope things have cooled down somewhat.”
They're not your typical dealership ads.
Each spoofs the vigilance of a trained chimp that protects people and their vehicles, sometimes violently.
The ad that caught my friend's eye begins with a thief breaking into a car and getting set to take off. The next shot shows the chimp, in the trunk reading, reacting to the theft in progress.
He sneaks up and clubs the guy. The next shot shows the car stopping midway on a bridge. The chimp drags the felon out by his feet. He's hurled off the bridge and into the water.
A narrator says, “The Trunk Monkey theft-retrieval system. Because sometimes getting your car back is simply not enough. Another revolutionary idea you'll find only at Suburban Auto Group.”
The spots offend some people. Most evidently find them funnier than a barrel of monkeys.
“The ads are a big hit here,” says Erinn Sowle, Suburban's general manager. “People love them. We've had only a couple of complaints. Some thought Road Rage was too violent.”
In that, a meek motorist, threatened by a bully during a traffic altercation, pushes a Trunk Monkey button in his car. The chimp ends up putting the claw end of a crowbar in the redneck's neck.
Then the voice-over tagline: “The Trunk Monkey. Another revolutionary idea you'll only find at one place. Suburban Auto Group.”
One of the funniest (and less violent) spots opens with three kids egging a guy's car as he drives down a suburban street. He pushes his Trunk Monkey button. Mr. Chimps jumps out and pursues the bewildered brats.
Two hop a fence. The third gets halfway over, but the chimp grabs him. His terrified face is shown in close-up as he's slowly pulled down.
After what happened to the car thief and the big bully, one may wonder what's in store for a captured kid. Relax. The spot ends with all three miscreants, under chimpanzee supervision, washing the car they egged.
“Two endings were done for that one,” says Sowle. “The one we didn't use simply ended with the kid being dragged down off the fence.”
That likely left too much to the imagination.
R. West, a Portland-based agency, did the spots.
“The concept of the ads is that we go above and beyond for the customer,” says Sowle. “Even to the point of offering the Trunk Monkey.”
But there is no Trunk Monkey product. (Why is that a relief?) I clarified that point with Sowle, prefacing my inquiry by saying, “This may be a dumb question, but…”
An interesting question is if it sells cars.
“It's hard to quantify how many actual sales are a result of the ads,” says Sowle. “They're not your standard call-to-action dealership ads. But they've given us a lot of name recognition.”
Dalrymple says of the pretend product, “I wish there were a real Trunk Monkey. I could have sold thousands.”
The chimp's name is Jonah. He was in the “Planet of the Apes” 2001 movie remake. He gets VIP treatment when he flies in for the ads. “He stays at a hotel and earns union scale,” says Sowle.
He's earned something of a following locally — and beyond. “We get comments from as far away as Australia and England and from some of our guys in the Middle East,” says Dalrymple.
The ads are being syndicated, meaning more dealerships are partaking in monkey shines.