Chimp is a champ for Portland ad agency

R/West’s ad campaign garners national acclaim and international syndication

Two of L.A.’s finest chimpanzee actors are helping Portland advertising agency R/West and one of its clients get a little global recognition.

Bella and Jonah portray a “Trunk Monkey” in five television advertisements that have generated an almost cult-like following. The result is syndication of the ads throughout the country and in Australia and New Zealand.

In addition to running as paid commercials, the ads have played for entertainment value on European television, as part of training by several police departments and other organizations in the United States.

“It’s an insane story — people really are obsessed with it,” said Sean Blixseth, president of R/West. The 7-year-old agency created the ads for Sandy-based Suburban Auto Group.

“Suburban knew they couldn’t win the media battle with dollars. They’re not even in the top 10 in terms of money spent on advertising by car dealers in the Portland area,” Blixseth said. “But we knew if we came up with something that blew people’s minds, it could be huge.”

Told to “go out on the edge,” Blixseth and his team brainstormed to come up with ideas that led to the concept of building an identity for Suburban.

R/West, with 26 employees, is known for its work with Burgerville, Integra Telecom and Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. The agency recorded $4.1 million in revenue in 2003, according to The Business Journal 2004 Book of Lists.

The agency has worked with Vancouver, Wash.-based Burgerville for years. Recent work with the burger purveyor includes launching a campaign on the company’s switch to Oregon Country Beef — which is raised by independent ranchers who raise beef naturally without hormones.

But the Trunk Monkey campaign has garnered the most attention.

In the first four Trunk Money ads, Jonah hangs out in a spacious trunk of a new vehicle until the driver needs assistance. In one, Jonah catches a would-be car thief and dumps him off a bridge.

At the end of the spots, Suburban’s logo appears.

In the most recent ad broadcast, Bella took over the role. She plays a pediatrician who pops out of the trunk when it becomes apparent that a woman riding in the back seat is going to deliver her baby en route. The ad ends with proud parents standing on the side of the road behind a proud Bella, who’s holding the swaddled infant.

In a different version of the ad, Bella runs off with the newborn.

Two yet-to-be-produced spots call for a “wingman” and a salesman Trunk Monkey.

The first ad aired in Portland during the 2003 Super Bowl, a spot that cost around $3,000.

“We definitely were the most talked about ad that night,” said Nancy Jaksich, who co-owns Suburban with her husband.

“We got a lot of calls. People were asking things like, ‘I just bought one of your cars, you didn’t tell me the Trunk Monkey was an option,'” Jaksich said.

“Then we started getting calls from Great Britain and Australia. It just went crazy,” she said.

One day following the airing of the first ad, the company’s Web site shut down. More than 250,000 attempts to download the ad overloaded the site.

Jaksich said she started hearing from dealers in Ohio and Pennsylvania and elsewhere around the country who had customers in their showrooms talking about the Trunk Monkey.

“That’s when we realized we were probably going to be able to syndicate it,” she said.

Suburban responded by trade-marking “Trunk Monkey” and licensing the concept. R/West works to tailor the ads to auto dealers in other markets.

The result is revenue that helps offset Suburban’s production costs, a steady trickle of work for local production houses, and a higher profile for R/West.

“It gives us global exposure to some extent but definitely a national profile. To date, we’ve really been seen as a regional creative shop,” Blixseth said.

The process has expanded Suburban’s horizons as well.

The auto dealer recently started merchandising Trunk Monkey products — T-shirts, bumper stickers and action dolls — from a shop at one of its showrooms and online.

Source: Portland Business Journal
Byline: Shelly Strom

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