Over freeways and between programming, Ask's advertising can be sighted in smug tag lines and over-joyous dance numbers. The campaign originally kicked off with a variety of billboards in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. With lines like "The Algorithm Constantly Finds Jesus", "The Algorithm Is Banned In China", "The Algorithm Is From New Jersey", "The Algorithm Killed Jeeves", and "The Unabomber Hates The Algorithm", we may have to ponder the moral implications of agreeing with the Unabomber for once.
More recently, the Algorithm spread to television. Grinning in front of a gaggle of minimally-dressed girls, the first commercial to take stage showcased a man singing to the rooftops about finding "chicks with swords". The second spot proved equally as silly, as a woman got light-headed over search-engine-stalking Kato Kaelin. You know, the witness to that murder trial over a decade ago. Taking a quick quantum leap in the time machine, the "chicks with swords" and Kato Kaelin commercials somewhat mimic eBay's previous ads that featured similar dance numbers but were much more positively received.
Though Ask is trying to lightly tap into the fact that "pleasurable" pictures are among the most searched across all engines, the time warp in topics fails to find current resonance. The Algorithm campaign was created by Crispin Porter + Bogusky, an agency well known for creepy fast food commercials and its unpimping of rides. Seemingly parallel to much of their previous work, CPB aims to inject enough attention grabbing to gain reactions. While it may be an effective tactic to generate buzz, are billboards and TV commercials a convincing enough means in getting people to, as the Ask tagline states, "experience instant getification"?
Reading through some of the online buzz, a few are surprised to find themselves yearning for the old days of Ask Jeeves, when it was very clear that you used the search engine to answer questions. Ask moved swiftly to kill off the old brand, and as stated above, even made a billboard about it. Ask may have moved too quickly though, as it might have made more sense to assimilate the old boy into their "reasons to use Ask.com" advertising as opposed to the shoot Jeeves first, ask questions later method.
Outdated themes combined with traditional media fail to centralize any potential for community collaboration. Photos and videos of the campaign sightings are spread across Flickr and YouTube, and yet when you try searching for "The Algorithm" through Ask.com, there is absolutely no mention of it on the first page (as of today). Tabbing over to Google, there is one result in the top three for "The Algorithm". Described as the official home page of the math that powers Ask, the seemingly thrown-together site displays paragraphs of small text and little else.
So, why has so much weight been thrown into offline media? Undoubtedly, Ask is wanting to capitalize on the term Algorithm, not unlike Google's owning of the term Blogger. As Greg Ott, Ask.com's VP of Marketing, states, they want Algorithm to become a household term: "We just want them to know there's something in there--think Intel Inside, Verizon's Network, Dodge's Hemi..." Hm, how about the content in Google -- too implicit? Unfortunately for Ask, there may need to be more meat in the advertising before many of us get interested enough start sending our internet queries elsewhere.
Ariel Waldman is a Digital Insights Analyst for applied technologies at VML, an interactive agency. Her blog can be read at http://shakewellbeforeuse.com. Views expressed in Adgadget are her own.