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Stand-Out Employer Brand Campaigns of the Past 10 Years (Part One)

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

Employer branding has been around for a lot longer than people realize. In the 1800s, businesses would pin bulletins in their windows to attract qualified applicants. Some employers would even jazz up their ads with promises of ‘working for the best shop in town”.


As long as organizations have been in need of people to help their operation run smoothly, efficiently and productively, there has been some form of recruitment marketing. The Information Era of the 1990s was when employer branding really skyrocketed as the IOT (Internet of things) began to make its way into workplaces, roles became more specialized and skillsets more sought after.

Now, we are in an Age of the Employee - at least, that’s what we call it at Drift. This time in our workforce history will be characterized by a rapid, epochal shift away from traditional, colonial, post-Industrial people practices and toward workplace cultures defined by their employees' happiness, safety and wellbeing. And, employer branding has to keep up.


The past 10 years have given rise to some truly meteoric employer brands that have challenged us all to think about what it really means to invite someone to “come work for us.” Their “Childlike Imagination” spot blew up and made it onto every “Top Employer Brands” ranking list for years to come. The content still holds up. We follow a child-like perspective on what happens at GE. “My mom makes underwater fans that are powered by the moon,” one little girls says. “My mom makes airplane engines that can talk,” says another. The message in this employer brand campaign is clear. At GE, you will have the full scope of your imagination to work with. It was only 1:01 in length, but it captured the employee value proposition of untapped potential and endless growth opportunities beautifully. That was in 2014 - nine years ago.




Since then, we’ve seen brands, globally, struggle with employer branding. It is a chronically underfunded discipline in most organizations - a team of one, if that. And while many global companies have invested in robust employer brand teams, many more employer brand practitioners on LinkedIn and Discord commiserate that they find it tough to shift traditional mindsets around what’s allowed to be “brand” and what isn’t.


Leading organizations see employer brand as a symbiotic partner of the company brand, aligned and strong together. The employer brand is a creative articulation of the employee value proposition and company culture. It should offer your future workforce a perspective inside your working life, and help candidates understand who you are, why you are and what you stand for. It also provides a platform to offer transparency on key experiential aspects of your organization, like your working model (traditional, remote, or hybrid?), collaboration style (agile, silo’d or open?), cultural aspects (fun, competitive or entrepreneurial) and a whole list of other things.

In the employer brand discipline, thought partnership and cross-industry knowledge sharing is critical. Employer brand teams that have been able to execute on unique, compelling campaigns that deliver real results have so much to share with teams that are struggling for budget, headcount or to change fear-based mindsets around employer branding. In that spirit, we have compiled a list of the most interesting, compelling, and differentiated employer brand & recruitment marketing campaigns from the past ten years, with clear rationale and trend identification.

Best practices were made to become obsolete. The “best-in-class” are meant to be surpassed. Truly innovative employer brands are built with the future in mind.

These employer brand campaigns all offer something that represent a ‘best-in-class’ approach, executed very well. The top two are the campaigns that pushed the concept and did something novel. They told the story in a creative, compelling way and left a lot of room for further exploration.


Before we dive into the ranking, a note on our system. Feel free to adopt it and use it to create competitive insight strategies to gain buy-in from your partners and stakeholders.

Key Indicator (5 point scale)

Key Questions

Innovation

Does it stand out? Is it taking any risks? What does it do differently?

Emotion

Does it feel compelling? Is it trying to connect? How does it feel?

Breakout Potential

Is there a clear opportunity to create continuity and build employer brand equity with this concept, mid- to long- term.

Disclaimer: This system is proprietary to Drift and subject to the opinion of our council of experts. We welcome all (respectful) challenges, questions and inputs and love a good discussion.


Employer Brands to Watch: Stand-Outs

There are many incredible examples of employer branding, globally. We delved into a few dozen of the campaigns that got a lot of attention and buzz over the past decade and created an analysis.


1. McDonald’s Japan - Anime Recruitment (2021-2) (100%)

This was a heartwarming portrait of a real early career journey, told through anime. McDonald’s created something really special here, not to mention topical, evocative and smart.


The short follows a new McDonald's hire as they navigate a new job, learning, growing, solving challenges and building relationships. The story is developed quickly and in a relatable way. It’s hard to hold back a smile during the scene when our main character is getting proficient at mastering the grill.



This piece of employer branding got top marks in Innovation, Emotion and Breakout Potential because it clearly aces in all categories: it’s a unique approach to a very commonly shared message: “You will grow here.” The characters, in typical anime style, pack an emotional punch and tug at your heartstrings. There is definite breakout potential, because there is no limit to the stories you can tell with a cast of animated characters and sets.


One more thing we liked:

It wasn’t that short. It felt more like a short film. Clocking in at 3:14, we appreciated a social video that isn’t afraid to go at length, if it has something really good to stay. Generally, best practice is to stay within the minute-to-minute-and-a-half range, but audiences will continue to tune in if you have a great story to tell and you can grab them. There’s no reason an employer brand video can’t be dramatic, compelling or hilarious.


2. Apple - This Whole Working From Home Thing (2020) (93%)

Leave it to Apple. There is no denying that the Apple employer brand team have done an incredible job in the past few years of capturing what they think we want to see about Apple. But, let’s be honest. We’re all skeptical, right? It’s nothing personal against Apple, it’s just that it’s been a rough few years for tech companies and workplace culture. This video bucks that perception, if we read this as a group of Apple employees. The campaign tagline is "This is Apple at Work (from Home)".



We loved that this employer brand ad approached the reality of working at home for a company like Apple with a lot of humour, and a very human tone. The quirky, upbeat tone takes you on a journey with a remote team, struggling to make a tight deadline and come up with “The Solution” to solve a major budget issue. The editing deftly shows our main characters’ work AND home life and the routine technical glitches that plague us all. There is a distinctly emotional component as the camaraderie of the team members is on full display. So are the various technological solutions Apple provides to make at-home collaboration easy, seamlessly woven into the drama of the script. Bonus points for launching as the pandemic was peaking, in July of 2020. It's likely that this spot resonated with many more people than it would now.

It was a bold way to send the message: working here can be challenging sometimes, but ultimately, the team and the importance of the work makes it worth it. Not bad transparency for a major tech company!

A note about this one:

This one did run a little long at 6:14.


3. Dropbox - Working at Dropbox (2015) (83%)

Organizations have been experimenting with new ways of representing employees in their employer brand materials, thus unlocking a whole way of narrativizing culture. Dropbox does this really well in their employer brand video "Working at Dropbox." We follow a series of puppets in various office environments - some sitting at desks, some holding coffee or standing in hallways. Each puppet is voiced by a real Dropbox employee and is answering a question about some key aspect of culture. All of the puppets offer insight as to “Why I love Dropbox?”




The voiceovers feel natural and the production quality is high, so the effect is quite impactful. Some of the key messages we hear from the employees are about how diverse the team at Dropbox is. The hardworking culture is results-driven, but people take pride in being part of an ‘iconic’ company. There are great perks and lots of room for growth and empowerment. Fairly standard EVP pillars, but delivered through the voices of employees in a creative format, it really connects.


Taking this approach could be a bid to disrupt bias. The puppets are anthropomorphic, but are clearly not humans. Dissociating the voices of the employees from their outward appearance could be a subtle indication that equity and belonging are Dropbox commitments.


This video scored high in the areas of #Innovation and #Emotion.


4. Barclays - Quietly Recruiting (2010) (83%)

Lengthier employer brand commercials became more commonplace as employers in industries like finance and technology sought to set themselves apart and showcase commitment to their future workforce. In the Barclays recruitment video, a sombre voice speaks over scenes of college graduations, trading floors and similar settings. People are falling through trapdoors and being snatched up in different, comedically terrifying ways. The message is clear: We may not be the biggest financial brand, but we speak volumes in the talent we attract.


It plays on the ‘scarcity’ and ‘social proof’ concepts of persuasion - demonstrating how sought-after people in the industry are choosing Barclays and hinting at a subtler approach than other big banks. They use the phrase ‘quietly conquering’ to create a sense of confidence, mastery and purpose. Most of all, though, this employer brand campaign sends the message, “We are a bank, and we know how to have fun.” The central concept is meant to be humorous and the execution ensures its comedic value.


This ad spot scored high in Innovation and Breakout Potential. The ‘quietly recruiting’ concept is new and bold… they are trying to be the ‘best’, the ‘most’ or the ‘greatest’… they are comfortable being Barclays. The concept has great legs, but it should be noted that this appears to be a very high budget production with professional-grade sets, actors, special effects, scripting and voiceovers. That’s what it takes to make a fantastical concept like this work.


5. Jung Von Matt - Lorem Ipsum (2012) (73%)

This German ad agency was recruiting for a new Art Director. They really decided to ‘go where the talent is’ on this one. Taking stock of the tools and platforms creatives use every day, Jung Von Matt decided to integrate their recruitment ad into a daily activity: copying and pasting dummy text from the site loremipsum.com.



For a whole week, when creatives went pasted Lorem Ipsum into their templates, a job ad popped up instead, inviting them to apply for the Art Director role. Some sites profiling this campaign described it as ‘polarizing’, which makes sense. Not everyone is going to be thrilled about having a job ad pop up when they are trying to get a task done (and it’s not clear if they were able to grab the Lorem Ipsum for their project afterward). But, obviously the ingenuity of the campaign resonated with lots of people because the campaign resonated with some people because they got 14,000 visits to their career site.


This one scored high in Innovation. Breakout Potential is dependent on the ability to innovate where these ads show up, as continued hidden job ads would surely get tiresome for the candidate base.

6. Kohler - #AltogetherKohler (2021) (73%) The video that accompanies an internal engagement campaign for Altogether Kohler is powerful, and a great example of how a relatively simple approach - beautiful visuals and a powerful voice over - can capture the essence of your culture effectively.

The video shows various Kohler employees creating multicoloured tiles with words like “Integrity” and “Respect” - the traits they most strongly associate with the Kohler culture. The voice over walks through how vulnerability and psychological safety that are part of a healthy workplace culture. The EVP messages that come through loud and clear: “It is safe to be yourself here,” “We respect and honour all diversity,” “Everyone has a unique life story they bring with them to work,” “Our commitment to belonging is a key to our culture of innovation.”




It is really the visuals that keep the viewer engaged in the content. This is a great example of how employees can be a huge asset in your employer branding. Thinking outside the box with how to feature employees in an authentic way was clearly a priority for Kohler; this video demonstrates the value in capturing organic employee interaction for your EB artwork.


Something to take away here: consider hosting an employee event as part of your next photo or video shoot and give the employees some kind of culture-inspired team-building activity to take part in. The footage and photos will reflect the heightened connection and engagement.

This one scored high in Emotion and Breakout Potential.


Learnings to Explore in Your Employer Brand Strategy

  • Play with new formats and modes of messaging. Break from the traditional corporate talking head and get into animation, transmedia and interactivity.

  • Don’t be afraid to inject humour and get real. Employer brand campaigns should feature the realities of working for your company.

  • Find innovative ways to embed inclusivity. Feature real voices and experiences from across your organization as a brand storytelling method.

  • Be comfortable being yourself. If you can’t be the most, the greatest, or the best… be you. Find that unique message that will resonate with your candidates and reinforce it creatively.

  • Connect with your candidates creatively. Explore different methods and platforms, especially for technical roles. Where do they gather to exchange information and enhance their skills? Find value-add, non-intrusive ways to show up there.

  • Featuring employees in an organic, authentic way is always a bonus. Your employee base is a source of first-hand stories, ideas and opinions about what it means to build a career within your workplace culture. Nothing connects like human experience.

Tune in next week for Part 2 of Exciting Employer Brands of the Past Decade! In the meantime, visit, the Drift site to learn more about our approach to employer branding.


What was your favourite employer brand campaign above?

  • McDonald's Japan

  • Apple

  • Dropbox

  • Barclays




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