NEW YORK Global staffing firm Adecco had a problem. Its conventional corporate image advertising wasn't connecting with the Gen Y prospects in Western Europe that it wanted to add to its database of temporary job candidates. The challenge was to "talk genuinely to someone [dressed] in their baddest-ass sneakers and jeans," said Ted D'Cruz-Young, founder of Ideocracy, Adecco's lead creative agency in the region.
That desire led to a major departure for Adecco, which moved from traditional media into content development. The star of the campaign: a TV show about career makeovers called FutureMe, running on MTV in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Much of the new content -- which also includes a series of shorts, two Web sites (futureme.eu and humansarecool.com) and an online tool to create a multimedia resume -- is unbranded. It's part of a broader brand campaign that has TV, print and radio ads, all tagged, "Better work, better life."
The content-oriented approach in that region also involves an unusual compensation deal between Adecco and Ideocracy: The New York-based agency has licensed its non-branded creative concepts to its client, rather than charging for man-hours.
The heart of the campaign is the MTV program, which premiered last week. Each 15-minute episode features a twentysomething job seeker who undergoes a series of initiation rites designed to reveal his or her true abilities and career goals.
Like MTV's The Gamekillers in the U.S., which Bartle Bogle Hegarty and @radical.media produced for Unilever's Axe Dry, there's no mention of the brand within the program. Each episode, however, is bookended with the message that it's sponsored by Adecco. Six episodes are in the can and Adecco hopes to develop more regionally and in other European markets.
The licensing arrangement is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the content. (Gamekillers, for instance, was a property owned by Unilever.) Under a five-year deal, Adecco pays an upfront fee as well as a share of the cost of things such as production and Web-application development. The agency, in turn, covers its direct costs. Neither side would discuss the price tag, but each acknowledged that the arrangement has changed their working relationship.
It "shows that it's not like the only side that has skin in the game is Adecco," said Michel Stokvis, director of marketing for the client's Benelux region. "We also know that ... Ideocracy has gone the extra mile and [taken] the extra steps to make sure things are successful, since that's also in their own interest."
Ideocracy pitched the show to Adecco in July. But before Adecco signed off on it, D'Cruz-Young shot FutureMe's pilot on spec. It was a gamble that helped Adecco visualize the concept and gave D'Cruz-Young the option of using the content elsewhere. "I simply didn't wait" for approval, he said.
Any initial skepticism from client executives gave way to enthusiasm once the pilot was shown. "It fits very well because it's really target-audience focused," said Marius Beek, svp, group marketing services for Adecco in Glattbrugg, Switzerland. "It's all about these candidates and how Adecco can help" them.
The client and agency approached MTV in late September and after a half-dozen meetings, the network green lighted the initial run of episodes in November, said Menno Wagenaar, managing director for MTV Benelux in Amsterdam, which has a one-year, renewable sponsorship deal with Adecco. "They were offering something new, a kind of fantasy-reality thing," he said.
The first episode, shot mainly in Amsterdam, featured a 25-year-old woman named Nicole who aspires to be an art director. Near the top of the episode, she climbs into the backseat of a limousine where she encounters Raul, a midget dressed in a white suit. (He serves as a foil and means for breaking up each show's three segments.) The segments represent different tests. In one, the dressed-down Nicole meets a designer who pushes her to try on a shiny halter top clearly inappropriate for work, yet Nicole accepts. To reflect on each test, Nicole, dressed all in white, sits down with a similarly dressed counselor, Rob -- a proxy for the Adecco brand -- who assesses her performance and dispenses advice.
While the characters Nicole meets had scripted lines, her reactions were not, which fits nicely into the real situations Ideocracy and Adecco seek to capture.
It's too early to measure the show's results (its namesake Web site also launched last week). But a casting call in the fourth quarter produced a fivefold increase in the number of resum