Jeeves Gets Time Off for Repositioning Campaign

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The economy has grown so anemic that even the Ask Jeeves butler is temporarily out of work.


Ask Jeeves Inc. will dispense with its butler icon in a new ad campaign designed to change perceptions of the search engine brand.


"Research showed that while the butler is well-liked and recognized, consumers felt the butler had a strong association with the dot-com boom, a time period that is seen as negative to many consumers, as well as a time period that is associated with unmet expectation from Ask.com," said Alexa Rudin, director of corporate communications at Ask Jeeves.


"In order to show that Jeeves is not the same search experience that it was, the company needed to communicate a visual difference. The absence of the butler sends a strong message that Ask Jeeves is different and has evolved into a superior everyday search site that can rely solely on its results to gain users."


Created by new agency of record TBWAChiatDay, San Francisco, the mid-August through November campaign mixes humor with a serious message.


Take the billboards, running in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta, Seattle and Philadelphia. An ad shows a set of three dentures. One has a few front teeth and canines missing. "Find the hockey player," the headline says.


The tagline, common to all print and outdoor ads, says, "An easier, more intuitive search. Ask Jeeves to find it."


Another ad, atop a taxi, shows three photos of the same kid, one wearing glasses. The headline says, "Find the kid with glasses." Similarly, a print ad shows what looks like a 1970s-era compact car in different colors. "Find the blue car," the headline says.


Copy goes on to stress that searching should be easy, with the emphasis on finding. The company also touts its Teoma technology and natural language to better understand entered keywords, phrases or questions.


The print ad runs in 30 consumer titles including People, Food & Wine, Cooking Light, Shape, Outside and Fortune.


Ask Jeeves will not disclose the ad spend on this campaign, though it earmarked $6 million on overall marketing for 2003. That includes trade show sponsorships and Interactive Advertising Bureau participation to support the company's sales team.


"We want to combat the perception that Ask Jeeves is only for questions, for example, using the term 'search' versus 'questions,' " Rudin said. "Also, we want to correct the perception that Ask Jeeves is not powered by good technology and has irrelevant results."


Ask Jeeves thinks, too, that it is unfairly buttonholed as a place to ask trivia or that women and children are the main users of Ask.com. So, in essence, the campaign aims to communicate brand personality values like modern, smart, interesting and approachable.


Along with test marketing, Ask Jeeves conducted user research to determine the direction of the brand. The findings shaped the campaign strategy and creative.


For one, consumers are concerned about the result, not the process. They do not understand the differences between search engines -- a point that may be debated by Google or even Yahoo. Finally, consumers still want more from their search experience, according to the survey.


Ask Jeeves admits that its new attempt to reposition also is related to the consolidation in the search engine space. Only a few months after buying Inktomi, Yahoo recently offered $1.63 billion for Overture. And Google progressively gains girth as it makes new advances in its service offerings.


Ask Jeeves claims to be the No. 2 pure search engine after Google, and the fifth among search/portal sites.


No longer is there one search engine that is heads above the rest in terms of relevance of algorithmic results, Rudin said. A site's experience has become a determining factor in which search engines consumers use. Positioning unsurprisingly is the key differentiator.


"The search space is heating up, and everyone is vying for users," Rudin said. "At the same time, Ask Jeeves now has an experience that is ready for marketing support. We're fortunate in that our product improvement coincides with an increased focus on search and a strong demand from consumers.


"In the last two years, we've taken a hiatus from marketing to focus on fixing the basics of accuracy, relevancy and speed while building and adding differentiators that allow us to understand the searcher to deliver an intuitive and smarter way to find the information they seek every day."


If the butler is missing from this TBWAChiatDay effort, the P.G. Wodehouse-created character certainly is featured on the new Ask.com home page. That page is now stripped down almost to Google proportions, making it easier to enter keywords.


Jeeves also will have a presence during the search experience. If, for example, a user types in "date of labor day," the character will appear next to the answer: Sept. 1 this year. Ask Jeeves calls these "wow" moments.


"Jeeves enters the search experience at moments of differentiation and satisfaction," Rudin said. "We believe that by reserving the butler for these special moments, Ask Jeeves can create greater affinity for the character and deepen the relationship with the searcher.


"Just because he's not in this ad campaign does not mean the butler's gone for good from future Ask Jeeves marketing campaigns."


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