05 April 2007

Don't Ask the question, you might not like the answer...

A couple of times recently my eye has been caught by ads for the Information Revolution. You may have seen them...they're designed as guerilla-style posters for a campaign or movement...you know, all black marker pen raised fists and loud hailers...but clearly being positioned on proper poster sites immediately makes them stand out as having commercial backing. One of the posters I saw called for an end to the information monopoly, the other (more obviously hinting at their source) highlighted the fact that the vast majority of people use just one search engine to find stuff on the internet.

I managed to remember the URL from the poster (which is unusual for me) and visited the site earlier today. I figured that I'd be able to dig around and somewhere find out who was behind the campaign...but actually it was very easy, as the Ask logo is featured on the homepage. It kinda struck me that they've bottled it a bit...I actually do think that it's a decent enough issue to raise in people's minds...but Ask was obviously a bit worried about the criticism that might come its way if it tried to hide its identity too much, and therefore made its involvement very obvious.

The problem is, of course, that by doing that the campaign loses its effectiveness. When you realise that the site is being driven by another search engine, then you question the motives (or, more likely, understand the true motives). After all, Ask's commercial objective, presumably, is to steal lots of search share from Google...in fact, it'd love to have the information monopoly itself.

For me, though, the campaign truly shoots itself in the foot with the main feature on the homepage; the opportunity to test four of the most-used search engines. I decided to do just that and, oddly enough, chose "the world's leading blog" as my search term.

So, how did they all get one? Well, on Google we came up as the first and second results...which I'll take any day of the week, thanks very much. On Yahoo! we were second - which is OK too - but on both Ask and MSN (sorry, Live Search) we didn't pop up on the first page...or the second...and, frankly, I didn't bother going any further than that because nobody else will.

So unfortunately, Ask's no doubt expensive advertising campaign has simply demonstated that there are at least two search engines that I'd use before Ask...and, to be honest, I only need one.


Anonymous said...

There's nothing to see here - Search = Google. And ain't nothin' anyone's gonna do about that...

Fiona Blamey said...

Word has it that they've gone a bit bats in the States, too, bibbling on about a mysterious algorithm. Presumably the one that put your fine blog somewhere out in the farthest reaches of their rankings. Mm.

::::r c:::: said...

What kind of revolutionaries buy advertising space on a tube train and the TV spots with their pirate TV feel remind me more of the early 90s with the Sega MegaDrive ads - we live in an internet age now. Where are the stickers on the lamp posts and the graffitti?

Talking of revolution, Marx always thought that Britain was were the great socialist republic would happen first. We're just not revolutionary.

Anonymous said...

The Information Revolution campaign isn't only a bit patronising in its attempt to be edgy, it has cheapened a very important issue for commercial gain.

Society has become reliant on search engines to give us access to information.

However, the methods of indexing the information are top secret. We know how the Dewey Decimal system works, so we can find data, opinions, ideas. Whilst not perfect, it gives us choice, and it's transparent.

The confidential algorithms of search companies do not give us the same opportunities, primarily because of the lack of transparency.

This means that search companies can manipulate what information and opinions we can gain access to in 'natural' listings, not only for commercial, but potentially political gain.

Maybe they already are.

Be aware not to be lulled into a false sense of security that the Internet and search engines are liberating access to information.

We need to be mindful that search engines should enable access to information, but they could control access to it.

Prem said...

Not wanting to be too contraversial, but I think its a bloody good campaign.

Imagine you're the agency, and you get the brief "we know our search engine isn't the best - as demonstrated by TWL - but we want to kick Google butt"...

This is streets ahead of its old Jeeves stuff, and has got everyone talking. I am a Google user. I don't like market leaders as a rule, they tend to be lazy and slightly scary. But I get what I need from Google.

This campaign has made me - a very loyal Google user - think twice.

Methinks that probably fits the brief.

Anonymous said...

Hardly kicking Google's butt prem.

They've rebranded themselves as "the other search engine".

May as well say, "We know we're not as good as Google. Now you do too."

I'd keep that in mind when you're searching.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, you´ve got to Ask yourselves one question...why would you not use Google if it gets you to the results you want?

Anonymous said...


The Ask campaign is an 'us too', and that's rarely sustainable in marketing.

You denigrate the Jeeves campaign, but the offering was still quite innovative, and had a USP.

Being able to 'ask' a search engine, using plain English, not trying to think how to best use the engine, is actually quite a nice offering - if it worked.

There are still a lot of Internet novices that could benefit from the hand holding approach.

Instead of trying to compete on a level playing field with not just Google, but Live and Yahoo, carving a point of difference, potentially by returning to the technophobe / novice / silver surfer market be better business sense for Ask.

Chris G said...

You've missed the most important bit. You can get free t-shirts from them by clicking on the link on the site. I've got mine and have been proudly wearing it to decorate the new abode.

BTW - I don't think the Ask logo was on there at the start so it did take a bit more digging by people to work out who had registered the site. And Ask did get a fair bit of flak for trying to hide their motives.