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June 22, 2007

Ask.com Thinks You’re An Idiot

Why does Ask.com think I’m a vapid idiot?

If the battle of the search engines was a football game, Jennifer Laycock (editor, Search Engine Guide) and I would be sitting in the front row of the bleachers clutching hands, decked out in our favorite Ask.com gear and jumping up and down rooting for our boys. And we’d look adorable doing it. But do you know how that football game would end? The score would be almost tied and then at the last minute, Ask.com would drop the ball, start running in the wrong direction, trip, or perform some other unthinkable move, causing Ask.com to lose in the most painful, degrading way possible. The crowd would storm the field and Jennifer and I would be left sitting in the bleachers. Alone and let down.

This is how Ask.com is making me feel lately.

Their release of Ask 3D was awesome. I was super excited when Ask.com’s Michael Ferguson gave me a private demo during SMX. Ask.com was out being innovative again and I was psyched. But no one outside of our little search bubble knows that Ask.com has done anything new because Ask is the king of failed advertising.

I don’t mean to harp on Ask.com, but good heavens, who is reviewing these TV ads and giving them the green light? Who does Ask think they’re audience is?

There’s a brand new chorus line Ask.com ad out called “Kato” that features exactly everything you hoped it wouldn’t — a woman searching for beefcake-a-licios photos of the creepy Kato Kaelin. I’m sorry, but Kato Kaelin? Who in their right mind is searching for Kato Kaelin? He’s “just what you’re looking for”? Really?

I’ve seen the ad twice so far. Today Nathan Weinberg was kind enough to embed a video of it so you can see it too. Go visit Nathan and then come back here. Please.

Okay, so Nathan calls the video “way better” than the now infamous “Chicks with Swords” video, and he’s right, it is way better, but only better because it doesn’t objectify women. But it wasn’t a real man. It was Kato Kaelin. He’s made a career out of objectifying himself. It’s not better in that it’s actually clever or witty in any way. It’s still Ask depicting their users as vapid idiot searchers only interested in getting their kicks by ooh’ing and ahh’ing photos of the opposite sex. We’re not intelligent people, we’re just lonely and on the Internet. That’s…sweet.

I get that they’re trying to be funny and lighthearted and warm and fuzzy-inspiring, but they’re failing. They’re failing so bad that they’re insulting the people they’re supposed to be attracting. Instead of me becoming an outspoken brand evangelists telling you how great Ask.com is, I’m sitting here fuming over their ads. When do Ask.com users get to search for something intelligent? Do we always have to be idiots?

And things may be getting even worse. Over at ClickZ, Zachary Rodgers tells us that Ask.com has paired up with Ask A Ninja for some new ads. Now, I’m a fan of Ask A Ninja but the idea behind these ads is worrisome. Zachary says that in one of the spots a ninja asks viewers to use Ask.com to find videos around made-up words like “ningiants”, “ninjuice”, and “nonja”. Here’s a brief synopsis:

“This episode was brought to you by Ask.com,” screeches the ninja as a search term appears below his face in the video frame. “Go to Ask.com, type in this ninja word twice as fast as you physically can, and you’ll either get a cool ninja video treat or a sword in your head. That’s a pretty good deal. I’d take that risk, but I’m a ninja.”

Great, now we’re searching for made up words and we’re talking about swords again. Why?

I miss the old Ask ads that encouraged users to use tools and feel human. Smart people search with tools. Search with Ask.com and be smart. Those ads were about making search better and empowering users with a better search experience. They weren’t about “instant getification” or half-naked chicks.

I really think Ask.com needs to stop releasing ads that show their users as a bunch of idiots incapable of searching for anything but pretty pictures of pretty people. (And if we are going to search for “pretty” people can they at least be pretty? Kato Kaelin? Why not Tom Brady? Or Joey McIntyre. I’d totally get behind an ad campaign about Joey McIntyre.) Ask needs to find itself some powerful brand evangelists to spread their message for them and get users talking positively about them again. Right now they’re just a bad joke where the punch line is always about swords.

Author:  Lisa Barone is a Sr. Writer with Bruce Clay Inc.

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