Ask Wants to Start a Deal Dance-athon

NEW YORK So you think you can dance? Search engine Ask seeks to pair bargain-hungry consumers and Internet self-expression in a campaign introducing its discount-hunting service.
 
The six-week push is centered on a catchy call-and-response song. “Hey fellas, who wants a deal?” asks an MC. The response: “I do, I do.”

Ask is running TV spots with nine different types of consumers performing dances and singing along in celebration of bargains found via the two-week-old Ask Deals service that culls coupons and discounts from across the Web. A microsite, Askdeals.com, invites visitors to record their own “deal dance” by using their Webcams and computer microphones.
 
“It’s recognizing there’s a consumer frustration finding deals on the Internet,” said Jared Cluff, svp of marketing at Ask. “There’s a thrill when you find a great deal.”
 
Omnicom Group’s Agency.com in San Francisco created the integrated campaign. The challenge, according to ecd Scott Briskman, was to come up with a simple way to explain the new product in the crowded search marketplace dominated by Google. What’s more, the IAC-owned search engine must contend with the big marketing push Microsoft has unleashed for Bing, which features its own methods for finding cheap flights and comparing product prices, including a cash-back feature that refunds money from purchases made after some product searches.
 
“There’s a lot of noise,” Briskman said. “It’s the right time for this kind of product because of the economy.”
 
The TV spots break Oct. 19 and run on both broadcast and cable. One version uses “Hey ladies” and the other “Hey fellas.” Mullen planned and bought the TV spots. Ask would not disclose media spending.

 
As a perennial peripheral player in the search arena, Ask is seeking its niche. After IAC bought the search engine for $1.85 billion in 2005, it jettisoned the longtime butler mascot and emphasized Ask’s tech prowess in a much-panned “The Algorithm” campaign from Crispin Porter + Bogusky. In the meantime, Ask continued to lose market share and endured executive churn with the departure of CEO Jim Lanzone in January 2008. His replacement, former Match.com CEO Jim Safka, lasted 18 months. Longtime Ask exec Scott Garrell is now running the company. Ask’s share of the U.S. search market has declined from 4.6 percent in January 2007 to 3.9 percent last month, according to comScore.
 
Most in the search market have thrown in the towel when it comes to competing head-on with Google and Microsoft. AOL long ago struck a deal to outsource its search to Google, and Yahoo followed suit in July by partnering with Microsoft. Ask has shifted its strategy to focus on niches and return to its original positioning as the place to ask questions.
 
The new campaign “skews female,” according to Briskman, but looks to appeal to pretty much anyone interested in bargains. One luminary who will not be seen cutting a “deal dance”: Jeeves. The butler is still banished, although he has made appearances in Ask’s marketing in the U.K.

 
The new push is also an example of the changing roles of interactive agencies.

Agency.com crafted the full campaign, including the TV commercials, and decided to center it on a catchy jingle. The by-the-book approach is reminiscent of methods used for years by traditional agencies that drew scorn from Web upstarts. Interactive shops looking to move into a lead role with clients need to think beyond Web executions to fuse advertising ideas with interactive elements, Briskman said.
 
“We’re tasked with building awareness,” he said. “We felt it was important to take advantage of things we know will work. The twist is we’re doing way more [interactive elements] than any traditional approach would conceive of.”
 
The campaign includes video banner ads, featuring deal dances, with some driving to an Ask.com search results page and others to the campaign site. All TV drives viewers to Ask.com, which will feature a link to the campaign microsite.
 
Agency.com included a social twist to the campaign by building Facebook Connect into Askdeals.com. Users will be required to log in with their Facebook accounts. A link to their videos will then be fed to their friends on the social network.
 
“We wanted to do an experiment if we could create a snowball effect and create a true viral response to the site,” Briskman said.

Ask spent $15 million on ads this year through August, excluding online, mainly backing a Nascar-related push, per Nielsen. That’s up from a total of $6 million for all of 2008, but way down from the $43 million the company spent on ads in ’07.

See also: “Ask.com Launches Serial Nascar Push”