I had my first encounter with Ask.com's "The Algorithm" campaign via a banner ad today, and was appalled on a number of fronts. No, it wasn't the traction-from-tragedy hook of the frame reading "THE UNABOMBER HATES THE ALGORITHM" that got my goat (though that's pretty nasty in inself, and is drawing criticism), it's the utter ineptitude of Ask.com's marketing efforts that has me flummoxed.
I can postulate a pretty likely scenario here. "Hey guys," says ad firm Crispin Porter + Bogusky, "we've put together a fabulous teaser campaign that will virtually require users to visit a specially-created 'Algorithm' site. Once we've got them there, we can sell them on the superiority of Ask.com's algorithm and convert all those long-suffering Google users to the cause."
Which would have been fine if the teasers were engrossing and inviting (instead they're obscure and confusing), and if thealgorithm.com was engaging and informative (instead it, too, is obscure and confusing), and, finally, if the product was worthy of all this attention.
The source where I encountered this ad -- The Washington Post -- carries the banner right above the site search box, which proclaims "Results from Google". If "The Algorithm" was such a fabulous thing it would actually work well enough that people used it without the benefit of a $100 million advertising campaign.
Replying to questions posed by WebPro News, Greg Ott (Ask's VP of Marketing) was dismissive of criticisms of the campaign, and displayed the same fuzzy-mindedness that the ad campaign itself does. "Most people don't give much thought to the search they use," Ott said, as if all search engines were created equal, and hopping from Google to Ask is simply a question of marketing, rather than worrying about the results the search engines actually deliver.
Well, guys, "The Algorithm" is actually "An Algorithm", and how it stacks up against other algorithms is the whole point, not simply the fact it exists. And how does Ask's algorithm stack up against the competition? Allow me to add one more frame to the banner ad I saw today in response...
THE UNABOMBER HATES THE ALGORITHM.
THE ALGORITHM IS FROM JERSEY.
THE ALOGRITHM IS BANNED IN CHINA.
THE ALOGRITHM SUCKS.