A Barrel Full of Monkeys | Bruce Turkel

Sitting in an airplane on my way to speak at the National Speakers Association Keynote Lab and mainlining my daily fix of The New York Times, I came across an advertising article by my friend Stuart Elliott titled “The Game Plan? Returning to What Works.”
Elliott writes about the Superbowl campaign that CareerBuilder ran in 2005 and 2006. Rather than try to paraphrase Elliott’s description, here’s what he wrote:

“Those spots featured a hapless office drone whose co-workers are chimpanzees, thus likening a bad job to dealing with idiots. The spots brought to life the theme of the CareerBuilder campaign at that time, ‘A better job awaits’.”

Stuart goes on to describe the campaign’s online component, Monk-e-mail, “which enables computer users to send message featuring customized images of ‘talking’ chimpanzees.”

Maybe you remember the very funny ads. Maybe you even sent or received your own Monk-e-mail with a customized simian avatar. You wouldn’t be alone – according to Elliott, 4.4 million people visited the site within 30 days and 160 million total messages have been sent. Monkey business, indeed.

In 2007, two years after the spots debuted, Cramer-Krasselt, the advertising agency responsible for the breakthrough ads introduced a new campaign loosely based on the Survivor TV show. The new campaign did not perform nearly as well as the monkeys did and CareerBuilder moved its account to Weiden & Kennedy, the agency famous for its work with Nike.

W&K tapped into a current advertising trend and debuted a consumer-generated ad most notable for its pantsless workers. It didn’t pull either and so CareerBuilder went back to what worked.

It is “a natural to come back to a campaign that made such a strong emotional connection with job seekers and corporate customers,” Matt Ferguson, CEO of the company explained to Elliott.  And Richard Castellini, chief marketing officer at CareerBuilder added, “people can relate to working with difficult co-workers.”

CareerBuilder’s advertising history is rather easy to follow. They scored big with Cramer-Krasselt’s monkey idea, and then tried both new advertising and a new advertising agency. Neither plan worked as well and so they’re now returning to what succeeded in the first place.

All well and good and an excellent example of what we talked about last week. That is, that “in a vacuum, ideas are both worthless and priceless at the same time. When they’re fully exploited, they can change the world. But when they’re ignored, reduced or simply not employed to their fullest potential, they have little value.” In 2005, the monkey idea was exploited and it worked. In 2007 it was abandoned and it didn’t work at all. In 2011 it will be reignited and we’ll see if it still can resonate with consumers.

The question I find most interesting in all this is why CareerBuilder didn’t resuscitate their original agency relationship along with their original campaign (Stuart Elliott tells us the new ads will be produced “internally”). I asked Stuart and he confirmed that the agency was paid for the original monkey campaign so CareerBuilder can legally do what it pleases with the concept. But does the placement firm have any responsibility, ethical or otherwise, to bring back their original agency? If they ultimately hire another agency to create the new monkey spots, can the new shop legitimately call the new ads theirs even though they’re based on a concept created by other minds? And, most importantly, which is more critical – the creative minds who came up with the original monkey concept or the concept itself? After all, the monkey idea already exists — who’s going to create the next one?

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

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