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October 8, 2007

Ask.com & Its Continued Identity Crisis

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I’ve got a question for you. When you think of Ask.com, what comes to mind? And, I don’t mean the commercials. I mean the engine itself. When you think about Ask’s search engine, what sorts of things do you associate it with?

This may be the Gary Price influence, but I think of Ask as the librarian’s engine, almost encyclopedia-like. Ask is that really smart friend I have hidden in the closet that I can call upon whenever I need some quick information. Ask is the friend I would call if I was sitting in that Who Wants to Be a Millionaire chair and needed the Phone a Friend option. [I’d call my dad. –Susan] I trust Ask to confidently give me the right answer and help me win a truckload of money. And then I could stop renting. Sweet!

But I think that’s how a lot of users associate Ask because they’ve become so familiar with Ask’s Smart Answers and quick information. Ask.com hasn’t become my default engine (yet), but it is where I go when I’m looking for fact-based/reference information. If I need to know what day Columbus Day falls on this year or how to convert ounces into pounds or what the weather is like in San Jose today, I use Ask. They’ve done a pretty good job of branding themselves as that, and it’s been successful for them, especially with blended search entering the mix.

Given that, you can imagine the head scratching that occurred when MarketingVox revealed that Ask would partner with Entertainment Tonight and The Insider to include Ask product placements on their fine celebrity gossip-filled programming.

Ask is entering the gossip space? What are they thinking?

Well, I’ll tell you. According to Jim Lanzone, the folks at Ask have been noticing a rise in the number of users searching for celebrity-related information, attributing it to the success of sites like TMZ and Perez Hilton. (Jim says that Perez is a big Ask.com fanboy, hee!) By brokering deals with ET, Jim hopes it will help build the Ask brand.

Build it as what? The go-to engine for celebrity gossip news and information on who’s dating who today?

Fine, I can somewhat understand the idea behind this. I can also appreciate that these types of OMG-I’m-totally-bored-at-work searches are becoming increasingly popular thanks to people like Perez; however, is that really Ask’s audience? Are these the people coming back to Ask.com everyday? Is this who Ask should be targeting?

I don’t think so. And just like that, the bad Kato Kaelin commercials are flashing through my brain all over again. It’s just another sign of Ask not knowing its audience and releasing something that makes everyone question their sanity for trusting them in the first place.

It feels like Ask is going through an identity crisis. They just can’t seem to figure out who they are, and because they don’t know, they can’t tell us either. It’s time for them to figure out who they serve and stick with it.

I’m all for Ask doing product placement. I always get a kick out of watching TV and seeing someone reference Ask or getting a visual of the Ask logo. Remember that show Treasure Hunters and the heavy Ask placement? That was great because Ask was showing its users that it’s intelligent and is able to help you find information. Remember their ad placement on MTV’s Road Rules? Again, it was Ask being helpful while appealing to a younger, more influential audience. These were effective product placements. Showing an Ask logo while some blonde reporter is talking about Lindsay Lohan (Long Island, represent!) is not reinforcing the Ask brand. It’s going to confuse readers. Are you educated and trustworthy or are you dumb and vapid? I don’t think there’s room to be both.

I know Ask is looking to increase market share and awareness, but targeting the gossip niche isn’t the way to do that. That’s not what Ask.com is. It’s now what its users expect or want. I used Ask to find factual information. When I want gossip, I head to a more vapid search engine, like Yahoo.

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One response to “Ask.com & Its Continued Identity Crisis”

  1. Burgo writes:

    Hmmm. I’m not sure. Yes, I can see where you’re coming from, but does EVERYONE share that view of Ask? Tough to say. It could be that that is your own perception of Ask, but not the market’s perception as a whole.

    I understand that your point is that this is an audience that Ask shouldn’t actively be targeting, but at the same time… will it really hurt?



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