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Monday, August 11, 2003

Jeeves, What's the Point of All This?

So Ask Jeeves is coming out with a new offline ad campaign under the direction of its "agency of record," Chiat/Day, and in the process, tried to garner a little free PR by shopping the story to journalists last week.

The point of this, we're told, is to emphasize the quality of the Teoma-powered search at Ask.com, and, well, to explain that this is about finding what you need, as opposed to asking questions and getting answers. According to Jeeves' marketing people, the goal is to get the site's total search market share of 3% a little closer to Jeeves' 11% reach figure. In other words, 11% of searchers are using Ask Jeeves at least once a month... but it isn't their engine of choice and they don't search there frequently.

Should they? Sure they should. Teoma is comparable to Google in many ways. But it strikes me that trying to get consumers to think of Ask Jeeves as a really good search engine, as opposed to a place to ask questions, is an insurmountable task. Most people by now are pretty well focused on Google as the #1 brand in search. If you ask them about Jeeves, they're likely to respond... "oh, yes, isn't that the one with the butler, the one that gives you answers to questions?" You could probably spend $100 million on ads without making a dent in that basic assumption around Jeeves' positioning.

So why are they burning their cash in this manner? What is it about some Internet companies that they seem to dislike having too much cash in the bank?

One supposes that Jeeves, rather than being positioned for a new place in consumers' hearts and minds, is actually being positioned for acquisition on favorable terms. That's the norm in the search business (and many other technologies as well), it seems. For all but the leading players, profitable quarters are assumed to be a temporary aberration, and management teams have frequent nightmares of being trapped in maze-like cubicle farms from which escape is impossible, and where all the walls have handwriting on them.

Related Traffick article: Differentiation Can Be Brutal in the Web Search Business

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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