Ask.Com launches huge marketing campaign, fails to see MSN's recent history

21 comments launches huge marketing campaign but forgot the MSN disaster of 2005. Someone forgot to tell that it takes more than TV ads to get people to use the search engine.

Stealing market share from Google, which does not advertise its service in broadcast media, has proven difficult. Microsoft launched a TV, print, radio and online blitz to lure searchers to MSN's new search engine when it launched in January 2005, yet it ended up losing market share to Google.

Being ONE of the insomniacs of threadwatch, I caught wind of several Ask TV ads next to a few of those 'call in the next 10 min and get a free toaster' commericals. I don't know exactly what they think will happen with massive spending with an ad agency.


They use Apostolos

They use Apostolos Gerasoulis as a spokesperson.

Try Shaq.

The monkey thing was condescending. It was sad to watch a company insult potential users, I could smell the cash burning while watching the commercials. Apparently the agency was stroking egos and the egos bought it, too bad that as 40 mil could have been spent in a much more effective manner.

True, you can buy a lot of

True, you can buy a lot of adword ads for 40 mil.

it does but

why was Ask bigger in the UK than elsewhere? Because the Ask Jeeves brand was so strong. And it was so strong because it was offline as well as on....

There's nothing inherently wrong with TV advertising for a search engine - in fact its a good idea - there are a load of people now going online who have never been online before - older people, people who haven't had a computer until recently, people who never used dial up because of the possible bills but can now (or will shortly) get free broadband from cable or satellite providers. And these people are total search VIRGINS. I mean they never surfed the net and they never worked with computers and some of them have never even heard of Google (its not in the mainstream news that much) let alone know what it does.

So when they get online and they take their first baby steps by clicking on that blue 'e' symbol they're gonna go where exactly? Somewhere warm and friendly. With monkeys.

Disclaimer; I haven't seen the ads so they might well be crap, condescending and designed to piss money up the wall, but then levels of sophistication vary - when you watch TV with your parents listen to what they say about different adverts and be prepared to cringe!

TV ads can be effective if

TV ads can be effective if done right. As Gurtie points out, is aimed largely at a search novice market and those people are often best found offline.

Google Worked because they Geeked it

Google worked because they appealed to the geeks (intentionally or not). Joe on the street isn't going to make any technology decisions based on a commercial. He may ask his "computer friend" about something he sees on a commercial, but if his friends says "no I don't like it" it's dead in the water. Here's the real point if you get the "computer friends" to like and I mean really like you not only will they recommend it they will become evangelists for you.

However it's easy to sell an old media parent company on the idea of spending money the old media way. Selling an old media company on the value of taking a product or service viral through a grass roots movement is pretty alien.

The commercials...

were actually pretty funny. I generally tune out commercials when I'm watching TV, but the ASK ones did catch my attention.

They didn't prompt me to visit ASK, however.

>>if you get the "computer

>>if you get the "computer friends" to like and I mean really like you not only will they recommend it they will become evangelists for you.

True, but this is where it might get interesting. Some people getting online now have 'computer friends' who like MSN and AOL.

Whosoever makes sharing pics of the grandkids and kittens easiest plus lets people find websites easily will win the hearts and minds..... personally I'd bring out a service where you phone the nice helpdesk and they make a homepage just for you without you having to do any of that complicated stuff. And the homepage could show ads :)

They're missing the butterfly

For 40M they could have had 40 million monkeys programming on a million computers, finding the best new search algo, and maybe even getting a Shakespeare novel as a bonus.

The people at ASK need to watch the ZeFrank branding video. Their logo still looks like 1994 and they still leave you with a bland emotional aftertaste. (Or they can take a different approach and go with repeating "Ask on. Apply directly to your browser." over and over on CNN. It wouldn't be too much more condescending than the monkey concept.)

And Gurtie, that's what ChaCha is sort of trying to do in a roundabout way - letting other search for you and guide you. Except instead of "Guides" they should call them "Grandkids" - it'd be much more effective for the demographic they're targeting.

Ask just doesn't get it

Ask.Com just doesn't get it.

It's 8pm.. do you know where your children are?

1) Playing Quake / Counterstrike Source
2) Chatting on IM
3) Fixing their Myspace post
4) tweeking their website
5) Downloading MP3's
6) searching for a termpaper to download
7) Watching some funny video on youtube


1) watching Katie Couric on CBS news
2) reading the washington post

I think when people really start to answer these questions, realizing that these 'kids' will be adults in about 3 years (IE: 900 days)... then you will start to see why Ad Agencies are not the right place to promote a search engine.

Well, television is Diller's

Well, television is Diller's background. That's what he knows best and what made him successful. But it's almost like he has blinders on this time around.

What's surprising to me is that after putting together a pretty neat stable of "new media" properties, he and his marketing folks just don't seem to get how to promote those properties in the new media age. There's really no synergism, each property appears to stand alone without any support from the others. Surely, most anybody here can come up with many different ways to integrate and cross promote this "non-network" in a more cost effective way than throwing bucks at innefectual TV buys.

And, if you do decide to do television buys, well, you need a hook, whether it's a cute duck, an irritating gecko, or a sophisticated Jeeves.


well firstly pester power tells me that ad agencies still manage to promote OK to children

and second targetting kids and neglecting the remaining 80% of the population is missing out on a HUUUUGE pool of relatively malleable punters. Kids are fickle, they'll change what they do when fashion changes in 3 months time. You get a 40 year old on side and they'll probably use you for the next 30 years, if they can.

My point is really that its easier to get the entirely new people than to convert the existing ones if they're elsewhere. There's no point in advertising exclusively online if your target market is not confident online. TV certainly wouldn't be best for everyone but there is a place for it, the same as there's a place to advertise widescreen TV's online :)

This isn't like MSN

This isn't anything like the MSN ads at all in my opinion. MSN had nothing to draw people into. They weren't really advertising a destination or a new and innovative product. They were advertising a search engine, something most everyone had seen and used before.

The problem MSN faced was the fact that people don't like change when it comes to their search engine. Stats have shown very minor shifts over the years, and people become comfortable with their search engine. It becomes second nature to many of us and a commercial is not going to magically cause us to change from old faithful.

What was doing was offering something new and innovative. I know the refined search is a stupid gimmick, but to most of the public, it comes across as something they might need to check out. MSN didn't offer anything new to check out, did. So Joe Shmoe sees the commercial, checks it out, says "Google doesn't offer me this", and starts using what he thinks is the search engine on the cutting edge. That's how you steal market share.

It's hearts and minds

Google has the hearts and minds and it's going to be very difficult to offer something so extraordinary as to change a normal user's default habit and behavior. Binoculars and refinement are not enough IMHO.

Privacy protection is one possible way a search engine could differentiate itself enough in today's market. If MSN said "we won't store your data", AND their relevancy wasn't too far off, they could really use that to drive a wedge. I'd switch. And then I'd influence others to switch too.

But more than that it really comes back down to branding and PR. Check out Bob Massa's answer to "Can Yahoo! or MSN compete with Google?" It's spot on.


Privacy protection is one possible way a search engine could differentiate itself enough in today's market

I'm actually surprised that no one has gone that route yet. Fear is always a way to sell something and putting the fear into everyday web users that their data is unsecure with others would seem to be a great way to bring in new users.

I don't think that the Privacy/Fear thing offers enough traction


Even after the AOL debacle ... it seems that public knowledge of the issue is typically far behind the reality of the situation. But I agree the time will come when privacy might offer a key point of difference. And that is where opportunity is gonna have to be, or in distribution, or both.

Google was of course not the first mover, but they got to a point of highest quality and superior reputation (quality product plus referals from opinion leaders as GW notes) at a watershed moment: The moment at which the Web came into its own not just with the tech crowd, but with the public.

Google now holds the "hearts and minds" top spot, as also noted. Yahoo! participates primarily by virtue of the many sticky portal/entertainment/communication features it offers. And MSN failed to sufficiently leverage its portal traffic into search over time, I'm guessing because of the relatively poor quality of their search product.

So, short term it seems that big share shifts are probably not in the cards.

What would it take for Ask (which IMHO has a pretty good product) to make a leap in share?

1) A hardass comparitive ad/PR blitze demonstrating a clear and motivating point of difference versus one of the leaders. But much as I like Ask's search product, I don't see a meaningful difference they can leverage. (Eliminating the butler eliminated a barrier to growth. But that is not the same as causing growth.)

2) A way into the fabric of the Web (i.e., distribution) that puts their brand squarely in the face of large numbers of users in such a way that it is more convenient to use them than to go off and use G or Y. In Ask's shoes, I'd be looking to partner with a major player and/or up-and-comer in the social Web arena. Or maybe a platform related entry point?

I know what well conceived, strategic, brilliantly executed advertising can do. But all the ad money in the world may not be enough to undo G's lock on mindshare, with no motiving point of difference, and no distribution leverage.

Ask: Kill the campaign and get your strategic act together...

Better Spent Money

That website design of theirs is just all wrong.

You come to the site and get a blank box to type in center focus, the menu is off on the right, even Google is smart enough to put options in the center where people will see them.

The we have the directive "download the firefox toolbar" with no single benefit mentioned of why I would even want to download that stupid thing unless you click the link which I wouldn't do with the lame text there, no incentive. At least they could say "Search Better with the Toolbar for Firefox!" and make me look to see how it's better.

It may be true that Ask has "tools" but they should build a couple for the marketing and web design teams which aren't the sharpest "tools" in the shed best I can tell.

BTW, devoting a chunk of the top of each result page to Wiki listings is enough to make me want to puke, why isn't that on the sidebar next to "Narrow Your Search"?

Oh well, nobody uses it anyway.

Don't forget that

sometimes, companies who rely on ad revenue don't advertise just for users, but advertise to show their advertisers that they're doing something/spending money/are serious...

Ask just throws mud against the wall

hoping something sticks.

There's really no synergism, each property appears to stand alone without any support from the others

Much truth to this. Just look at IAC's travel sites. Completely incompatible with each other and not only do they not support each other, they dont like each other.

The monkey commercials were arrogant and insulting. Does that really surprise anyone? It shouldnt. Ever hear Diller speak? It stems from the arrogance that flows down from on high.

It's a shame, really. What a waste of Teoma. Too bad MSN didnt buy it when it had the chance.

"What a waste of Teoma."

Exactly - holding what was (and, given some proper nourishment, might well still become again) the most advanced, rational, clean and intelligent search technology of them all, it makes one cringe to see them neglect it that way instead of leveraging it big time. It's like discarding a fistful of purest gold in lieu of all the oh-so-appealing cheap glitter stuff.

As it stands, the only thing it's doing big time is suck, and that indeed includes their awful design ...

Clueless all the way.

Use the gutter press..

Privacy protection is one possible way a search engine could differentiate itself enough in today's market

If Ask didn't store any personal data and then used the 40m to get the front page of the red tops (in the UK) with a 'shocking' story about how users of Google, MSN, Yahoo and AOL could have their personal data, every bit of it, turned over without their permission, then you will get a shift.

The sheep follow the gutter press over here.

Not storing personal data

is an oxymoron when referring to anything owned by Diller. For him to make that claim would be a greater insult than his monkey commercials.

Think about it - with, lendingtree (no longer about leads - they are doing mortagages and phasing out their broker clients), expedia, and, he has his users real estate and mortage data, where and how you are traveling, where you are staying, and whether or not you took a blonde, brunette or redhead.

Toss in SE data and his user data makes him a far scarier guy than Gates any day of the week.

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