A Tough Job for Tough Times

Given the dire economic climate, the home audience for this year’s Super Bowl likely included a robust number of unemployed workers. So it was curious that the two companies that stood to gain most from this unfortunate fact — CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com — seemed to drop the ball when it came to attracting them.

Strategically, both companies chose humorous ads that focused on workers unhappy in their jobs and ignored the increasingly dismal employment climate. Post-game, the blogo-sphere was buzzing about the tone-deaf nature of the ads, and several headhunters contacted by Adweek noted the curious lack of engagement with those currently on the hunt for work.

The CareerBuilder spot, “Tips,” from Wieden + Kennedy — which launched the site’s new campaign — notes that “maybe it’s time” for a new job and lists the signs, e.g, screaming before work or being forced to sit by a toe-picking co-worker.

Monster’s spot, “Doubletake,” from BBDO New York-tagline, “Your calling is calling”-features two people who share an office wall. On one side, an executive in a posh office sits underneath a mounted moose head; on the other, a sad sack sits below the same moose’s backside. On-screen copy asks, “Need a new job? We can help.”

Susan Friedman, founder of advertising headhunting company Susan Friedman Ltd., says, “Funny doesn’t fit our economic problem. [Unemployment] is a very big issue and these were wonderful opportunities to address it.” The sites, she adds, would have been better off making a more emotional appeal to establish a relationship that builds confidence and trust.

“I don’t know how much of a sense of humor people have about [job searches] right now,” says Jim Scholfield, svp at Rand Thompson Consultants. “I have an appreciation of the ads from a creative standpoint, but we’re working with a shell-shocked group of people. They’re hungry for information, not a cute ad.”

Both CareerBuilder and Monster marketing executives say they decided to stick with humor because that’s what works best on the Super Bowl. And in depressing times, they add, people would rather laugh than cry.

Richard Castellini, CMO of CareerBuilder.com, says the company has traditionally relied on humor in its advertising and while certainly aware of the current climate, its data showed that comedy would remain king. “Our research has shown us that looking for a job is a difficult endeavor,” he says. “Knowing that is the case [people] want to be made aware of [employment resources] in a lighthearted manner. … We found that people want to laugh now more so than they have in other recent times.”

In terms of buzz, he adds, the site had 25 percent more unique visitors post-game this year than it did post-game in 2008.

Ted Gilvar, evp, chief global marketing officer of Monster.com, says the company also conducted research prior to selecting the campaign. “We wanted to be sure that we were resonating in what are very different conditions,” says Gilvar. “Ninety-three percent of the people we interviewed said they expected funny from us.”

Still, shortly after the campaign began running — and prior to the Super Bowl — the company made some changes to the spot’s language. Instead of asking, “Are you in the right job?” the copy was changed to, “Need a new job? We can help.”

“We didn’t want to be tone deaf to the fact that a lot of people are out of work,” says Gilvar. The spot, he says, has created tremendous buzz and “is beginning to show the desired traffic to the site.”

Todd Grant, ecd, Cole & Weber United, Seattle, who had no problems with the light-hearted take in either campaign, says CareerBuilder’s execution was, however, more interesting. “If I’m looking for a job, I would want the freshest, newest and most different job I could find, and of the two spots CareerBuilder was definitely a [fresher ad],” says Grant.

But humor aside, the issue for some who found the ads tone deaf had less to do with laughs  and more with the fact that they focused on the employed-people who are probably happy just to have a job. Any job.

“My feeling is you’re happy if you have a job and you’re pretty willing to put up with everything,” says Sallie Mars, svp, director of creative services and director of diversity at McCann Erickson New York, whose job includes recruitment. “[And] from an employer’s point of view, it doesn’t paint a very pretty picture of who’s going on those sites. As a recruiter I’m looking for the best and brightest, not disgruntled workers.”

Mars adds, however, that the campaigns could be uplifting to some of the newly jobless. “It [might make them] feel better about themselves because yeah, that job you had sucked anyway. You didn’t [even] want it,” she says. “Maybe it makes them feel bad for the poor schmucks left behind.”