Ask.com Launches Serial Nascar Campaign

Nascar viewers are going to get to know the Ray family intimately. Beginning with the kick off of the season at Daytona this Sunday, Ask.com will launch 36 new ads featuring this “colorful Nascar family.”

Meant to play out like a sit-com, the ads feature slices of life as the Ray family enjoys race season together. A new ad will break each week for 36 weeks.

Ask.com became the official search engine of Nascar last month. In addition to becoming the home of Nascar racing in terms of in-depth information it can provide, it will power Nascar.com and sponsor a car in the Sprint Cup Series. Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed.

Ask.com is currently the fifth most popular search engine accounting for slightly less than 2 percent of U.S. searches in January, per Nielsen Online. No. 1 Google was used for 62.8 percent of all searches followed by Yahoo! (16.2 percent), MSN (11.2 percent) and AOL (4.0 percent).

The search engine hopes its ubiquitous ad campaign will turn 75-plus million loyal Nascar fans into loyal users. “Nascar is our No. 1 most queried sport. People are emotionally connected with it,” said Ask.com CEO Jim Safka. “We’ve rallied the entire company around the sport. [But], we don’t just want to win [users] over in terms of questions they’ve got about Nascar, we want to become their search engine.”

Spots will air approximately five times during each race. In one, Karen Ray (mom) ogles driver Bobby Labonte through a pair of binoculars. Her husband, Billy Ray, says, “Why don’t you keep that north of the Mason-Dixon line, alright?” Karen Ray asks: “Do they wear anything under those suits honey?” The Ask.com search box then appears with the question: “What do Nascar drivers wear under their suits?”

Other ads ask: “What kind of car does Bobby Labonte drive when he’s not on the track?” and “What is the fastest time a pit crew has ever changed a tire?”

“A lot of companies do their obligatory spot to say we’re involved with Nascar,” said Doug Raboy, managing partner/creative director at Hanft Raboy & Partners which created the campaign. “We know they watch it every week. We wanted to give them something new to watch and learn about [Ask.com] every week. We’re not just some carpetbaggers.”

The length of the deal moving forward will depend on how many fans begin using the site, said Safka. However, the association has already produced one unexpected offshoot in form of interest in a TV series based on the Rays. “It could turn into something much bigger,” Safka said of the ad campaign.

The search engine’s robust TV schedule comes after a quiet 2008 when it spent only $6 million on offline media for the first 11 months of the year, per Nielsen Monitor-plus. In 2007, however, it spent $48 million. Safka would not quantify this year’s investment.