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Newsflash for Ask.com: The Algorithm is Dying

Aska_6 In case you hadn’t heard – Ask.com has a new advertising campaign through their new partnership with Crispin, Porter & Bogusky (CP+B) focused on making a hero out of the algorithm.  The idea behind the marketing strategy is described on their blog:

I2m_ask_thealgorithm_4 If you get great search results, you don’t care why or how you got them.  But for more than 80% of searches, there can be more than one right answer. And even when there is one right answer, there’s more than one way of getting you there, understanding those results, or getting ideas for alternative searches. For these searches, the editorial voice of your search engine matters. Search isn’t the commodity it may, at times, seem to be.

You might know CPB for their superfun and standout ad campaigns for Volkswagen and Burger King (including my favorite, the Subservient Chicken viral).We’ve been working with them to create a campaign that champions "The Algorithm" and how it brings good search to life–from plain old “ten blue links” to popular, algorithm-driven features such as Smart Answers and Zoom related search.  … So ready or not world, here comes the Algorithm, soon to take its rightful place as a household word, once and for all.

Um, ok.  Obviously they are excited to be working with the "cool kids" at CP+B, which is great.  And the campaigns that are mentioned were wonderfully creative campaigns that defined a new positioning for each client and offered something new and viral.  Unfortunately, there are three pretty obvious flaws in this marketing strategy for Ask:

  1. No one cares about the algorithm – This is a fact which they already note above, stating that consumers don’t care how they get search results as long as they work.  Everyone in the tech industry is trying to be more "human" with their advertising – but Ask inexplicably decides to go the other way and focus on the algorithm.   
  2. The algorithm is declining in importance - As anyone following the search industry knows, the rise of social networks and human filtered search mean the algorithm is not what is used to be.  Even Ask notes above that "the editorial voice of your search engine matters."  Seriously, does the editorial voice of Ask come from an algorithm?  Not so much.
  3. The core brand value or positioning for Ask is not about the algorithm – This is perhaps the largest strategic issue of this campaign, that it misses the mark in focus.  Ask happens to be a search engine, but the core value proposition is not about the power of the algorithm.   For years the company focused on user friendliness and having Jeeves as a personal assistant to navigate results.  Quite simply, the algorithm is not what makes Ask unique.

Strategically, the campaign misses the mark pretty widely – and the only explanation for how it launched that I can think of is a marketing team getting blinded to strategy by a creative concept that they fall in love with (probably because of a great sales job from the CP+B team).  Unlike most of CP+B’s work, this is definitely not a winning idea.  As Techcrunch recently shared, the execution doesn’t seem too much smarter with their Unabomber billboards and incomprehensible microsite.  Even Valleywag was confused.  Am I missing something?  This doesn’t inspire too much confidence in Ask.

I2m_askalgorithmhomepage

  • http://www.cameronolthuis.com Cameron Olthuis

    Great analysis and well said! I think you’re the first to point out the fact that the algorithm is declining in importance. At least the first I’ve seen. They missed the train by a few years.

  • http://www.technologyevangelist.com Ed Kohler

    I think they should consider switching to, “Find Stuff.” People would actually understand that. And they can spell it.

  • Pingback: Gary Reid

  • Patricia

    It was the Unabomber ad that really made me shake my head in wonder. Am I supposed to want to follow the lead of a psycho? My reaction — poor Ask is trying way to hard to be clever and insouciant. Bring back Jeeves.