Ask Jeeves Gets ‘Intuitive’ in Ads, Without Butler’s Help

After a year and a half of minimal advertising, search-engine company Ask Jeeves is launching a $6 million print and outdoor campaign from TBWA\Chiat\Day in San Francisco.

“They are known for questions, and we want them to be known for answers,” said Michael Allen, president and director of client services at TBWA/C/D. “They’re known for searching, and we want them to be known for finding.”

A billboard going up in six cities next month pictures a dog, a shark and a monster and ask viewers to “Find the suitable pet.” A taxi-top ad with copy that reads, “Find the kid with glasses,” shows the same tyke three times—he wears specs in only one image.

The tagline is, “An easier, more intuitive search. Ask Jeeves to find it.”

“We wanted a simple visual way to communicate ‘intuitive,’ ” Allen added. “It is a hard word to put into other words.”

The client’s signature butler character, Jeeves, who debuted in a $15 million rollout from Euro RSCG/DSW Partners in 1999, is largely absent from the current effort. The character is now limited to online work.

“He’s an asset, but we removed him for the outdoor and print campaign to disrupt people a little bit, get them to think something must be different,” said Alexa Rudin, director of communications for the Emeryville, Calif.-based client.

What’s different is that Ask Jeeves turned a profit for the first time in the last quarter of 2002 after purchasing the company that makes its search-engine technology, Teoma, also used by InfoSpace, HotBot and Excite. Second- quarter revenue of $36 million was up 66 percent from the same period a year ago.

The upturn allowed for a boost in ad spending, which had dropped from a high of $20 million in 2000, when Grey in San Francisco had the account, to off the radar screen last year through this May, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

Print ads will run in 18 magazines, including Forbes and Fortune, through the winter. The work reinforces the images in the outdoor ads with copy explaining Teoma technology.

TBWA\C\D won the business in April, following a review that involved about a dozen shops. Sister Omnicom Group shop OMD handles media.

Client president Steve Berkowitz said Ask Jeeves has “survived and flourished” without advertising by improving its site. Although the various portals and search-specific sites are difficult to compare, Ask Jeeves’ monthly visitor rate of about 12 million pales compared with competitors Yahoo!, with 220 million visitors a month, Lycos, with 115 million, and Google, which conducts 150 million searches a day, according to Hoover’s Online.

Last year, Yahoo! spent about $40 million on ads, half of its 2000 outlay, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

Previous ads, which broke in June, focused on the breadth of subjects that can be found on Ask Jeeves. The radio and online spots were the first work from TBWA\C\D.