CareerBuilder Hopes 'Tough Love' Attracts

By STEPHANIE KANG caused a stir in the advertising world last year when it dropped its longtime agency after its Super Bowl commercial flopped. Marketers switch agencies all the time, but the move was unusual because the same firm had done two previous CareerBuilder Super Bowl ads that were huge hits.

This year, CareerBuilder will be back in action at the big game, with a new agency: the Portland headquarters of Wieden + Kennedy, which also makes commercials for Coca-Cola and Nike. CareerBuilder’s new spots will be closely watched by advertising executives — and not just because of last year’s drama. The site faces a challenge common to companies in many sectors, and the new ad campaign is an effort to address it.

A joint venture of Gannett, Tribune, McClatchy and Microsoft, CareerBuilder says it is the biggest company in the online job-search field in North America by several important measures, including total revenue and online traffic growth. Yet more consumers are familiar with its primary competitor,, in part because Monster got into the market earlier. With its new ads, Chicago-based CareerBuilder is aiming to distance itself from Monster as much as possible, much as Adidas decided to make teamwork the theme of its ads in recent years because Nike had already staked out the message of individuality.

Monster’s current ads strike an idealistic note — the tagline is “Your Calling is Calling.” CareerBuilder, by contrast, takes an almost scolding tone in its new campaign. The company has several potential Super Bowl ads; it has bought two 30-second spots but hasn’t yet decided which ads will air. All feature people who are unhappy in their workplaces. In one ad, an animated firefly answers the call of a man who wishes he loved his job. As the two break into a musical duet, gazing at the stars, a spider hunts down the firefly, wrapping it in a cocoon as the music comes to an abrupt stop. “Wishing won’t get you a better job,” the ad says.

In another spot, a computerized image of a heart jumps out of a woman’s chest, holds up a sign that says “I Quit” in front of her boss, and then walks out of her office. The spot ends with the line: “Follow your heart.”

The campaign should be an “unapologetic slap on the head” to would-be job seekers to start the sometimes painful and long process of getting a new job, says Richard Castellini, vice president of consumer marketing at CareerBuilder. Part of the campaign is a new company tagline: “Start building.”

CareerBuilder will need increased consumer awareness over the next 18 months as it expands throughout Europe. In the U.S., the site’s goal is to get 25 million unique visitors a month, up from the current 23 million monthly unique visitors.

CareerBuilder’s last Super Bowl ad was the talk of the industry for months — and not because of the commercial itself. The company’s agency at the time was Cramer-Krasselt, which created widely praised 2005 and 2006 Super Bowl ads for CareerBuilder that featured monkeys running amok in an office. The ads spawned “Monk-e-Mail,” a viral marketing campaign that lets users dress a chimp, type a message and have the “talking” monkey deliver the e-mail to the recipient.

For last year’s Super Bowl, CareerBuilder and Cramer-Krasselt decided to run a different ad, which riffed off the idea that “it’s a jungle out there” and had office workers battling each other. That commercial didn’t make the top 10 in USA Today’s annual Ad Meter poll, though the ad helped drive traffic to CareerBuilder’s site the following day.

Soon after CareerBuilder put the account up for review in February, Cramer-Krasselt’s chief executive officer, Peter Krivkovich, took the unusual step of putting out a memo saying that the performance of the ad in the Ad Meter poll had prompted the move. Mr. Krivkovich slammed the company for the decision and said the agency wouldn’t participate in the review. CareerBuilder Chief Executive Matt Ferguson denies the Super Bowl poll was the sole reason the company switched gears.

Office shenanigans are a popular motif in the ads these days, with a wide range of companies doing Dilbert-esque riffs on workplace culture — so much so that Wieden even considered an ad campaign that took place outside the office. “The fact is, our consumers are in an office,” says Wieden Creative Director Mark Fitzloff. “I don’t know that we had much of a choice in the matter.”

The Super Bowl ads will kick off a national ad campaign for CareerBuilder that includes print, online and outdoor ads. The idea is to flash the tough-love message as workers go through their day. For instance, signs that commuters will see on their way to and from work have messages like “If you don’t like your job then maybe you should get another job.”

Online banners challenge users to “pick which best resembles your boss,” with options of animals such as a unicorn and a rhinoceros. The ads will run on Web sites that workers often browse during lunch or other breaks, such as, and

Wieden also created several micro-sites, including the Personal Gruntledness Index, where users can answer questions about money, career and lifestyle to find their happiness level. The National Gruntledness Index allows users to compare their happiness status with that of other people in their industry and their geographic area. The data come from CareerBuilder.

Post-Super Bowl, CareerBuilder will concentrate its TV spots on programs that air on Sunday through Wednesday, which it says are the toughest days for workers who hate their jobs. On Thursdays and Fridays, it says, workers are looking forward to the weekend and aren’t as receptive to a message about changing jobs.