It's hard to believe it's been 20 years since Mullen in Boston—now known as MullenLowe—created "When I Grow Up," a 30-second Super Bowl commercial for Monster.com that would become an instant classic.
The spot, shot in black and white by Hungry Man's Bryan Buckley, shows kids talking straight to the camera about what they want to be when they grow up. But instead of grand visions, they have comically depressing ones—of being underpaid and underappreciated middle managers, stuck in dead-end jobs before being forced into early retirement.
"What did you want to be?" says the on-screen copy at the end, before revealing the Monster.com logo. "There's a better job out there."
Edward Boches, then a 16-year Mullen veteran (who became the agency's chief creative officer in January 1999, the same month that "When I Grow Up" aired), was the creative director on the spot. Dylan Lee and Monica Taylor were the copywriter and art director—both were snapped up by Wieden + Kennedy Portland within a few months of the Super Bowl.
"I like to think this commercial underscores my favorite thing to do with an idea: connect with a truth," Lee has said about the Monster ad. "It's about finding something that people can relate to—and that often cuts through clutter and pulls in consumers far better than any joke or clever interactive device."
The ad is a mainstay on lists of the best Super Bowl ads ever—most recently, Muse's own list of classic Super Bowl spots reviewed in 53 words or less, in which it tied with Volkswagen's "The Force" as the top choice among more than 100 advertising creatives (with the caveat that they weren't allowed to pick Apple "1984" or E*Trade "Monkey").
To get a sense of how Monster feels about "When I Grow Up" today, Muse spoke to the brand's chief marketing officer, Jonathan Beamer, who was 25 years old when the spot aired—and who took over as CMO of the job-search company last year.
We spoke about "When I Grow Up" as well as another famous Monster Super Bowl ad, "Double Take," which aired in 2009—exactly 10 years ago.
Muse: Do you remember seeing "When I Grow Up" during the game, or at least knowing about it before you joined Monster?
Jonathan Beamer: Yes, I saw it during the game that year.
Why do you think it was so popular? Did it simply strike a chord in a unique and memorable way?
Personally, it definitely struck a chord and made me think. I was a 25-year-old engineer in my first real job and wondering what my future held for me—a life in as a middle manager looked possible. I don't think I was the only one who could relate to the ad. I think it made a lot of people stop and think. And I think that the irreverence and humor has been helpful, too.
Bryan Buckley traveled around the country to find non-actors for the spot. The script was great, but what do you think the child performances added to it?
Children delivering funny lines has broad appeal. Bryan did an amazing job getting authentic, deadpan delivery from the kids. They felt authentic, which enabled the reflection that many of us do when we see the spot—what did I want to be when I was a kid? Would my past self be proud of where I am now? Have I realized my full potential?
The spot famously drove a lot of business for Monster. Did it also have a longer-term effect on the brand?
Monster continues to enjoy the benefit of a strong and durable brand—a brand that was largely built during the decade starting in '99. We still hear how a job candidate's engagement with Monster began with this campaign.
It's also the 10th anniversary of another celebrated Monster Super Bowl ad: "Double Take." That one was also darkly comic. Are you a fan of that one?
This is a humorous spot, and really much of the same theme—that we all risk being stuck in jobs that are not fulfilling, that are not the best fit for our capabilities. I would rather have Monster strike a hopeful tone. One that more clearly shows that our platform can help candidates and companies find the fit that makes workplaces happier and more productive. For me, this spot spends too much time showing the opposite—the enemy off of which we are pushing. I want to be sure that Monster is clearly seen as the solution to this possible future moving forward.
How does the Monster brand today compare to the brand of those earlier eras, when it was running Super Bowl ads?
Our brand has been well designed from our founding 25 years ago. We have always celebrated the potential in each of us to make a meaningful contribution in the world of work. Back then, this meant moving beyond newspaper classifieds and ensuring that a candidate could easily find opportunities in their field and geography. Today, we stand for the same purpose, and the evolution of technology enables us to aim higher—to ensure that we are helping you find your next best opportunity based on the myriad of preferences and capabilities that are increasingly observable in our digital life.
Would Monster run a Super Bowl commercial today?
Maybe; not this year. We still have broad appeal and serve a wide enough swath of the population that this placement can make sense. We are still active TV advertisers and focus on measurable return for our media footprint. A Super Bowl ad might very well work for us, but it would be a big bet for us today and we can aggregate much of that same audience with less risk.
Where is Monster headed right now with its marketing?
We are focused on bringing new energy and purpose into our marketing while also modernizing the product offering. We won't let one get in front of the other by too much, or the marketing message won't have the meaning that we want it to have. We are incredibly excited about the future and the opportunity to address the continued need that job seekers have, the alignment with our historical brand equity, and the gaps of what our competitors offer, which largely don't address that need. We know we can once again lead this category.
Spot: "When I Grow Up" (1999)
Agency: Mullen, Boston
Creative Director: Edward Boches
Copywriter: Dylan Lee
Art Director: Monica Taylor
Agency Producer: Sarah Monaco
Production Company: Hungry Man
Director: Bryan Buckley
Director of Photography: Scott Henriksen
Editorial Company: Bug Editorial
Editor: Andre Betz
Music Company: Elias Arts
Spot: "Double Take" (2009)
Agency: BBDO, New York
Creative Director: Eric Silver
Copywriter: Reuben Hower
Art Director: Gerard Caputo
Agency Producer: Ed Zazzera
Production Company: Rattling Stick
Director: Daniel Kleinman
Director of Photography: John Mathieson
Editorial Company: SpotWelders
Editor: Haines Hall
Music Producer: Loren Parkins