Who Had the Better Media Strategy? CareerBuilder vs. Monster

Optimedia's Antony Young Compares the Two Leading Job-Hunting Sites

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Antony Young
Antony Young

With some 4.4 million people joining the ranks of the unemployed since the recession began in December 2007, job sites have seen a healthy bump in traffic. ComScore's December 2008 website-traffic report revealed "job search" as the fastest-growing content-site category, up 51% from the previous year. The country's two largest job sites, CareerBuilder and Monster, both spent significant media budgets on- and offline, hoping to capture a higher share of this surge in traffic.

CareerBuilder, the No. 1 job site in the country, with approximately 21 million unique visitors, has been a consistent media spender -- including as a regular fixture in the Super Bowl. Its 2008-2009 creative work features people unhappy in their workplaces. One ad includes a heart that quits its job and the line "Follow your heart," underpinned by the company's new tagline: "Start building." According to syndicated sources, CareerBuilder spent about $41 million on paid media in 2008.

At the beginning of 2008, competitor Monster launched a marketing effort aimed at motivated job seekers positioning the site as a trusted partner in critical career/life decisions. Under the tagline "Your calling is calling," its reported media budget was just more than $102 million. Monster's current strategy is to attract not only the unemployed but also "passive seekers" who have jobs, and whom the site views as more attractive to potential employers. One of its spots stresses that there is a perfect job for everyone and uses the line "Are you reaching your potential?"

The creative strategies are very similar. Both ask workers to upgrade to a new job and are delivered with humor. So how differentiated and effective were the sites' media plans?


5 stars Outstanding/innovative
4 stars Highly effective
3 stars Good
2 stars Disappointing
1 star A disaster

Super Bowl strategy

CareerBuilder 4 1/2 stars
Monster 4 1/2 stars

The beginning of the year marks the time when many people think about a career change. Hence, CareerBuilder has typically front-loaded its annual media plan with a Super Bowl presence. It earned rave reviews for "Tips," a 60-second spot that said, "Maybe it's time" for a new job, and listed signs that it was (e.g, screaming before work and frustration at an annoying man in a Speedo in the next cubicle).

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CareerBuilder complemented its TV spot with viral executions, and this year it was one of the few Super Bowl advertisers to intentionally leak its ad online as a way to gain early traction on blogs. For the second year in a row, CareerBuilder partnered with Facebook's Engagement Ads, a tool that allows advertisers to place polls on people's home pages so users can rate and share ads with friends.

Monster returned to the Super Bowl last month after a five-year hiatus, airing two 30-second spots. The first, which aired at the two-minute warning in the first half, was tied to its official sponsorship of the NFL. It promoted the dream job of director of fandemonium at the NFL, and directed fans to nfl.monster.com, where they could text to register. Thirty-two winners received season tickets and flights to New York to interview with Monster, NFL personnel and former football players for a chance to snag the coveted position. The successful job applicant would get a sign on bonus of $100,000 and would join the coin-toss ceremony at Super Bowl XLIV. The second spot was a 30-second brand ad that ran in the third quarter and featured two men who share a wall, one side with a moose's head on it and other with the moose's rear sticking out of it, with the line "Need a new job?" The ad directed viewers to Monster's new site.


Both advertisers received celebrated reviews and, depending on the poll, seemed to split the punters and the experts in terms of a winner. CareerBuilder got a slightly higher rating on buzz, ranking No. 3 on Socialmeter's social ROI ranking. Monster's NFL promotion showed an inventive and relevant promotion for both partners. In my view, a tie.

Online advertising

CareerBuilder 4 stars
Monster 3 stars

Monster placed just over 69% of its display-advertising plan online in 2008, compared with CareerBuilder's 35%, according to TNS.

Monster's internet advertising frequently ran on sites such as About.com, Amazon, CNN, Digg, Fandango, Time.com, and many local TV and newspaper sites. Banners included messages such as "Ready for a better job?" Much of the newspaper advertising was through partnerships with local newspaper sites.

On the day after the Super Bowl, CareerBuilder launched Anonymous Tip Giver, a microsite that allows users to send animated tips to friends and co-workers. CareerBuilder also enhanced its message by establishing an online video contest, where users compete for $5,000 by submitting 45-second, humorous videos showcasing their personal examples of why "It's probably time" to look for a new job.

Online banners challenged users to "pick which best resembles your boss," with options of animals such as a unicorn and a rhinoceros. The ads ran on websites that workers often browse during lunch or other breaks, such as Gawker, Deadspin and College Humor.

Given falling click-through rates for display and search advertising, both job sites are turning more to e-mail as a means to drive traffic. According to Heather Dougherty, research director at Hitwise, 28% of CareerBuilder's traffic is e-mail-driven, with Monster at 18%.

CareerBuilder's Anonymous Tip Giver
CareerBuilder's Anonymous Tip Giver

CareerBuilder displayed a more adventurous and experimental approach to social media, although it's unclear exactly the level of responses it garnered. Monster was less comfortable in the space. For instance, it reportedly insisted that YouTube remove a number of its TV ads from its site.


CareerBuilder 3 1/2 stars
Monster 4 stars

CareerBuilder has a clean, uncluttered, intuitive interface. It offers great functionality such as automated employment searches, job-search recommendations via "push technology" and job alerts. The site offers live chat to assist with job-search concerns. It even provides search lists of recommended job selections based on previous searches and job applications.

One section CareerBuilder added is the "National Gruntledness Index," which attempts to show where in the country people are most and least happy with their jobs. The application gives you the opportunity to determine your "Personal Gruntledness Index." It's a little gimmicky but reinforces the ad campaign's proposition.

Monster's new site offers a lot more color and visual branding. It promotes a number of services on the front page (e.g., resume-writing services, career advice, podcasts on all sorts of topics). It also offers a nifty career-mapping feature where users enter a starting job and an ending job, and Monster plots how other people have made that transition (e.g., you can enter how to go from brand manager to Air Force pilot).

Organic search

CareerBuilder 4 stars
Monster 2 stars

CareerBuilder does a very good job with its organic search. It got double the number of organic clicks Monster did, according to ComScore. CareerBuilder will show first in the organic listings when a user searches for specific positions such as "accounting jobs" or "business jobs."

Monster promoted the dream job of director of fandemonium at the NFL by directing fans to nfl.monster.com.
Monster promoted the dream job of director of fandemonium at the NFL by directing fans to nfl.monster.com.

Paid search

CareerBuilder 3 stars
Monster 4 stars

In terms of paid listings, both sites face heavy competition from the many specialist niche sites. Both CareerBuilder and Monster have relatively small paid-search offerings where they run only a handful of keywords, relying on their offline brand awareness to drive users to search their brand names.

CareerBuilder did not appear to be running any paid search on its brand, whereas Monster is. Although they both appear first organically when users type in their respective brand names, Monster runs specially designed copy within its paid listing.

The advantage here goes to Monster. According to ComScore, in the second half of 2008, Monster out performed CareerBuilder in paid search, achieving 5.54 million clicks vs. 4.78 million.


CareerBuilder 3 stars
Monster 3 stars

Monster ran a steady schedule in network and cable TV, spending about 30% of its budget on TV. CareerBuilder placed 54% of its media budget on TV. It concentrated its TV spots on programs that air on Sunday through Wednesday, which CareerBuilder claims are the toughest days for workers who hate their jobs. On Thursdays and Fridays, CareerBuilder says workers are looking forward to the weekend and aren't as receptive to messages about changing jobs.

CareerBuilder launched a video contest where users compete for $5,000 by submitting 45-second, humorous videos showcasing personal examples of why 'It's probably time' to look for a new job.
CareerBuilder launched a video contest where users compete for $5,000 by submitting 45-second, humorous videos showcasing personal examples of why 'It's probably time' to look for a new job.

Other media: PR, newspapers and local TV

CareerBuilder 3 stars
Monster 3 1/2 stars

One of the PR initiatives at which CareerBuilder has been particularly adept is its surveys, which are often interesting or topical. For example, this past Valentine's Day, CareerBuilder released a study that revealed that 40% of people have dated a co-worker. CareerBuilder also offered "Tips on Making Yourself Recession-Proof at Work" and "Finding a Job After a Layoff," which was picked up by a number of news sources.

Monster is seeking to increase its competitiveness at a local level through partnerships with newspapers and TV networks. It partners with some 250 newspapers, such as The New York Times and Chicago's Sun-Times, to promote co-branded job-search and recruitment sites and has formed alliances across 120 broadcast and online media channels.

Response to the recession

CareerBuilder 1 star
Monster 1 star

Surely the big elephant in the room is the recession, and it would seem both missed an opportunity to deal with it head-on. Perhaps they both felt it was too hot a subject, choosing the historically safer humor-led creative route. Or maybe with the importance placed on employers, they looked to focus their marketing dollars toward the more gainfully employed. However, given the current economic times, suggesting that people quit their jobs would seem to be lost on many.

Antony Young is CEO of Optimedia U.S., a Publicis Groupe company headquartered in New York. He is author of "Strategies in a Downturn."

In summary

CareerBuilder 4 stars
Monster 3 1/2 stars

Despite a smaller budget, CareerBuilder has been able to strengthen its brand and drive traffic to its website. According to ComScore, CareerBuilder increased its lead over Monster in terms of traffic to its site for the better part of 2008. That was on the back of its Super Bowl strategy, a solid online-advertising effort, excellent organic search and clever tactical promotion. Monster made a triumphant return to the Super Bowl, had an impressive website relaunch and successfully employed paid search, showing some encouraging signs in early 2009 to challenge CareerBuilder's leadership position in this space.

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