HR for the 21st Century: Shirtless Men, Monkeys, and Dancing Women

Monkeys, shirtless men, and come-hither women. What’s HR coming to?

CareerBuilder’s monkeys have the animal rights people in a tizzy, while the latter (from The Ladders) has the (oh, dear. Whatever adjective-noun combination I use will offend someone so let me just say) some people waving the employee handbook, aghast at the overtly provocative nature of the company’s latest TV commercial.

The Ladders’ “More Attractive” spot began airing shortly after the New Year. But the buzz seems to have grown noticeable last week. Set to the song “Desire” by Vassy, the commercial features several provocatively posed and dancing members of The Ladders job seeker community. The tagline is “Be more attractive to $100k+ employers.”

Karla Porter, one of the earliest of the recruitment bloggers to comment, titled her post “WTF are they smoking over at The Ladders?” In case you are in doubt, she didn’t think it appropriate. Nor did those who commented on her post. Among them Laurie Ruettimann of Punk Rock HR fame, and Nick Corcodillos from Ask the Headhunter.

About the same reaction,  if a few degrees down the thermometer,  from Kelly Dingee at Fistful of Talent.

The YouTube community has a way broader range of views, most centered around the overtly provocative nature of the commercial. However, one post caught what I’m told was The Ladders intent: “all this is about is a parody of high-fashion photo shoots but with normal people who are clients of the company instead of super-models.”

Says Alex Douzet, president and co-founder of the company, “We took average people instead of fashion models because we wanted to demonstrate that you can be attractive. Attractive to employers.”

The actors in the ad are all Ladders members who found their current job through the career site. They were chosen from some 700+ volunteers who responded to an email sent by CEO Marc Cenedella last fall. The field was narrowed down to a dozen by the agency, Fallon Minneapolis, who developed the concept and the ad.

Not so much a parody of fashion advertising, as a metaphorical reference, Douzet said the imagery is straight out of Vanity Fair. Indeed, many of the stylists and fashion advisers for the shoot all worked for the magazine at one time or another.

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“Yes. Absolutely,” Douzet knew the ad would be provocative and even controversial when the agency proposed it. His first thought, he said, was, “This is different.”

Targeted at job seekers, not recruiters or employers, the ad needed to cut through the clutter to get attention. “You always have to push the envelope,” he says. “We needed to tell a story that is different. The Ladders is different from other places to find jobs.”

While job listings are everywhere on the Internet, the message The Ladders wanted to tell was that its services help make a job seeker more attractive to employers. Simultaneously with the ad launch, paid Ladders members were assigned a Search Advisor. Members can call their advisor for job search help ranging from the general — how to set an automated search — to the specific — resume feedback and help. For detailed assistance, the search advisor may refer the member to a specialist.

Douzet says the agency is monitoring the comments on the social networks and finds them running 3-1 in favor.

CareerBuilder, however, doesn’t need to use any monitoring tools to know there’s a group of activists out there unhappy that it again used chimpanzees in its Super Bowl commercial. A quick look at the company’s Facebook page makes that clear.

And just in case the media hadn’t noticed, the radical animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals issued an advisory calling attention to the Facebook campaign. It also encouraged its members and supporters to post messages to the CareerBuilder page.

For the record: PETA may not have liked the ad, but USA Today‘s Ad Meter panelists did. It ranked it 6th out of the 61 ads aired during Sunday’s game.

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


15 Comments on “HR for the 21st Century: Shirtless Men, Monkeys, and Dancing Women

  1. Luv ’em or hate ’em. you REMEMBER THEM, and *that’s the point….

    Keith “What Would Don Draper Do?” Halperin

    *and to get you to use the service/product.

  2. If unattractive people rubbing themselves and rolling around all over each other and exposing their unattractive body parts is considered attractive, we have now reached a new low both in advertising and what is considered attractive.

    If The Ladders thinks their approval rating is 3-1 in favor of the spot i agree with Karla they must be smoking something. A new brand of “crass” perhaps. There may be social media wonks sitting in their basements snorking over the ads but what i am hearing in the business community is totally negative.

    If these are “normal people” who got jobs through the Ladders I would suggest that they will probably either live to regret their disgusting performance or get offers from the porn industry and i bet their mommas ain’t too proud of them. I was embarassed for all of them. Can you imagine your wife or significant other being known as the person who spread her legs and rubbed herself on national televison during prime time or stuck her big butt out while standing on a desk.

    I wonder how their new employers feel about the whole debacle. I would not want any of them working for me after that strange lapse of judgement and exhibitionism (flashing of private body parts in front of other people).

  3. I have said from the beginning that theLadders ad is not targeted at corporate HR. It will have a negative response from corporate HR, but it will work for the masses who will go to theLadders and shell out money each month for jobs & tips they can find elsewhere for no cost. theLadders will make their mark… conversion of candidates who pay monthly fees.

  4. All the commercials were outstanding due to the “stickiness” factor. They resonate, generate conversation (both good and bad), and lead to some form of reaction from the person watching the advertisement. That’s the objective.

    My personal favorite was the Careerbuilder one with the monkeys – personally, I found it hilarious.

    TheLadders is more like watching a comical train wreck, and therein lies the beauty. Alex Douzet is a very smart guy, so I wouldn’t chalk his approval of the ad up to some lack of understanding of how the HR Community would view it.

    This post and the ensuing discussion is why advertising work when executed properly. Whether we like or dislike the approach and/or message, we’re having a dialogue.

    Winners: Careerbuilder and The Ladders.

  5. As a talent acquisition professional, I “got” it when viewing the ad. It was more interesting and revealing to see the reaction of non industry females in particular. They were unanimously disgusted. And if you think it doesn’t matter to corporate HR, let’s wait to see how many new jobs get posted at The Ladders.

  6. You know, as much as I dislike the Ladders ads Joshua’s comments make sense to me. They’re on my mind, and that’s what they want …. urrgh. Egads they’re bad. But I LOVE the monkeys! Hilarious.

  7. I’ve seen the commercials and I don’t dislike them, but I’m not over the moon about them either. If the commercials were meant to be a metaphorical reference to the fashion industry and the over emphasis our society places on physical appearance, I have to ask what criteria was used to narrow down the 700+ volunteers to the dozen. “Average people” were selected for the ad versus fashion models, but to a certain degree there is the same over emphasis on physical appearance with actors too.

  8. Personally – I am equally unimpressed by their new ad as with their site. I felt the commercials were of someone trying to be edgy and reinvent themselves and hang on for dear life becuase they know the end is near.

    As far as the remember factor, the only thing that sticks in my mind about CareerBuilder is all the junk ads, work from home scams, and lose 100lbs in 30 days job postings on their site. For Ladders and the $100k jobs and applicants; all I remember is getting resumes from Pizza Delivery Drivers and Mercenaries – neither in the $100k talent deck I was seeking.

  9. ISTM that the cost/benefits ratio of posting jobs is very high, when compared to direct sourcing or getting employee referrals.

    Your thoughts….

  10. I own an HR consulting/recruiting practice and I think the ads are funny and definitely doing the job they were intended to do – bringing awareness and attention to The Ladders. They start a conversation, good or bad and that certainly appears to be happening here! I’ve had at least 3 people send me the link to this on YouTube.

  11. While it may be true that no publicity is bad publicity when you are an entertainment celebrity it can be bad when you are a service provider (physician, politician, and yes – employment services industry). Stickiness is not good when it is a bad taste in your mouth.

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