Publicity You Can’t Buy: How The Ladders Ad Has People in a Tizzy

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 The Cynical Girl, 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.

Overly provocative commercial?

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.

“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.”

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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.”

Comments running 3-1 in favor of the spot

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.


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