Super Bowl ad campaign goes down to wire
With Mullen’s fast-and-furious help, Net firm bets on big game’s exposure
By Chris Reidy, Globe Staff
With airtime costing about $3.2 million a minute, an ad on Sunday’s Super Bowl can be the product of months of planning. A TV ad is a mini-movie, folks in the ad business say, and each 30-second ad on Sunday’s big game can represent 2,500 hours of creative thinking, scripting, casting, shooting, and editing. That’s why advertisers such as Budweiser and Pepsi can start thinking about the Super Bowl 10 months in advance. But don’t tell that to chief executive Jeff Taylor of Maynard-based Monster.com, an on-line recruiting service that looks to match job seekers with employers. In an unusual move for a company that has never run an ad on national TV, Taylor bought a minute of Super Bowl airtime in November. That was before he had hired an ad agency. It was before he even had any idea what the ad might say. “Isn’t that the right way to do it?” quips Taylor, whose company will spend $4 million, or 18 percent of its 1999 marketing budget, to air a single ad three times on Super Bowl Sunday, twice during the game and once during a pregame show.
Super Bowl ads are usually the province of such giants as Frito-Lay, General Motors, and American Express. Monster.com and a rival Internet firm are among a few smaller companies betting much of their ad budgets on the impact of Super Bowl exposure. To get that exposure, Taylor needed an ad agency in a hurry, and for that he turned to Skip Pile, head of a Boston-based consulting firm that manages ad agency reviews. Typically, a Pile and Co. review lasts eight to 10 weeks with a company hearing pitches from several agencies before picking a winner. That wasn’t the case with Monster.com. It condensed its review into five days before choosing Mullen, a Wenham ad agency, just before Thanksgiving. “They moved with the speed of the Internet,” says Pile of Monster.com, adding: “This is the fastest any client we ever worked with has made a decision.”
From Taylor’s perspective, advertising on the Super Bowl makes perfect sense in the context of Monster.com’s history. Founded in 1994, the company started as a Web site for local high-tech workers looking for new jobs. Since being acquired a year later by TMP Worldwide Inc. of New York, the company has tried to broaden its reach, posting job listings for everyone from college interns to high-level executives. Just as Internet shopping exploded over the holidays, so too has interest surged in Web sites where employers pay to post job listings and to review job-seekers’ resumes. As with other categories of electronic commerce, a frenzied stampede is on, with the early birds in on-line job recruiting likely to emerge as the big winners. On-line recruitment may be especially lucrative because Web sites offer employers a cheap, easy way to find new workers. Throw in a work force that values the challenge of a new job every few years over the security of long-term employment, and on-line recruitment seems poised to take off. That’s the assessment of Forrester Research Inc., which projects that spending on Web-site recruitment should grow from $105 million in 1998 to $1.7 billion by 2003. With 1998 revenues of about $40 million, the Web-site jobs empire Taylor leads is positioned to be one of the few mainstream recruitment services likely to survive the Internet’s frontier days, suggests Forrester analyst Chris Charron. To ensure survival – and dominance – is one reason Taylor decided to advertise on the Super Bowl. A recent merger between Monster and another Web recruiting service TMP acquired may be a second reason. “We’re taking advantage of the broad reach of the Super Bowl to increase awareness and encourage viewers to visit our site,” says Taylor, who hopes the ad will triple the 5 million monthly visitors to Monster.com.
HotJobs.com Ltd., a Monster.com rival, has similar ideas. Looking to exploit the dissatisfaction of workers with dead-end jobs, the New York-based company hired Boston ad agency Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulos to create its own Super Bowl ad. HotJobs’s experience shows some of the perils of trying to create a Super Bowl ad on the fly. A proposed ad showed a man cleaning an elephant’s cage. The elephant backs up, sits down, and the man disappears. Despite its risque sitcoms, the Fox network claimed to be horrified and rejected the ad. For HotJobs, the controversy was a public relations bonanza. According to Hill Holliday chief executive Jack Connors, the ad could have been modified in a way to win censors’ approval. But HotJobs “decided they wanted the publicity instead,” says Connors, whose agency was dropped in favor of another that will produce HotJobs’s Super Bowl ad. Monster.com’s Taylor says he’s uninterested in such hoopla. “We’re not looking for big hype and a bunch of stories,” he says. “Our goal is to stand out to the Super Bowl audience.”
To that end, Mullen staffers have been working furiously. Some 2,500 hours of effort went into an ad that took about five weeks to conceive and complete, says Edward Boches, Mullen’s executive creative director. Taped in black and white, the ad shows 13 children saying such things as, “When I grow up … I want to be a yes-man.”
“I want to claw my way up to middle management,” says another kid. “I want to have a brown nose,” says a third. The message of the ad is: “‘Don’t settle for less. Don’t give up your dreams. Find the job you want,”” Boches says. Boches hopes the black-and-white ad will stand out amid the often luridly overproduced Super Bowl spots full of celebrities and cute animals. The ad concludes: “Monster.com. There’s a better job out there.”
On Sunday, viewers will judge how effective Mullen’s whirlwind efforts were. But today plans call for a champagne toast as Mullen marks the first Super Bowl ad in its 29-year history, Boches says. A month ago, toasts were far from his mind. “‘Oh, my God!,’ I thought, ‘Are we going to be able to pull this thing off?'”