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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 March 2006, 13:44 GMT
Asking for it
The Magazine's review of advertising


THE BRIEF: Somehow get people to use a site other than Google.

WHAT HAPPENS: A thoughtful-looking dude asks people remarkable questions - will the policeman push him on a swing, will the balloon salesman let them go just for fun - and gets the answer he wants. The policeman pushes him, the balloon man lets them go, a big bloke carries him on his shoulders and an ice-cream man lets him drive away in his van.

WHAT'S REALLY GOING ON? There's no dialogue in this ad, and yet it's very clear from the moment you see the policeman first pushing the swing what the idea is.

Bowling up to a cross-looking big bloke on the street and asking to be carried on his shoulders could almost come from Luke Reinhart's The Dice Man, where the protagonist allows a roll of dice to decide his actions, however foolhardy they might be.

In a way, this is the opposite of the Danny Wallace book Yes Man, in which he decided to say yes to whatever request came his way (an idea which seems to have been recycled in a recent Virgin Credit Card advert). There's also a hint of random acts of kindness.

But the boot is on the other foot: this is not about giving, it's about getting. Do the unexpected, the message goes. Ask and you will receive. Don't be scared. You can but ask.

A fine theme for an advert for a search engine - but the real message here is equally counterintuitive. Ask.com wants heavy internet users - and primarily men - to try something different from Google.

Rachel Johnson, of Ask.com, says the advert is designed to address "sleep searching", where people don't really consider which site they are using or what results they are getting.

"People have got into habits. What we want to do is start getting them to think about search in a different way," she says.

The star of the film, shot in Auckland, New Zealand, and directed by Nick Gordon, was chosen from the street. And with the soundtrack from US band Iron and Wine, it does have a simplicity which will grab attention.

There's another issue, of course: butlercide. Ask.com was until recently known as Askjeeves, and claimed to simplify web-searching by allowing "real English questions". So instead of entering one or two terms, users could write proper questions ("Whatever's happened to Jeeves?") The company says this human face and approach tended to mean more of its users were women than men.

Jeeves leaves
Jeeves leaves, the movie (see internet links)
Now the company says times have moved on and so have they. It's one of those weird branding decisions in which companies decide the thing they are best known for also limits their ambitions. So, following a vote of users, Jeeves has gone off on a round-the-world cruise. (A very amusing film commissioned by the company speculates what Jeeves's retirement party would have been like - see Internet links.)

Their hope is that, by being a bit tongue-in-cheek, they can carry their old users with them as they search for new ones. But will they get what they ask for?

Ad Breakdown is compiled by Giles Wilson

Your comments

This is a good point. Google and MSN seem to have such a strangle hold on the search market that nobody ever questions whether we really are getting the best results. I have tried a couple of different engines, the best being www.Lookbelow.com. It is simple in design and gives the most accurate results of any search engine i've used.
Matt Walker, Leicestershire

I used to use several search engines. Eventually most of them got swallowed up by Google. I also found out that some search engines simply present the most popular hits from other search engines. Those that claim to use "plain English" just don't work; at the end of the day Google is the best that's currently available and it only sees a small part of the entire internet.
Vince Millett, Croydon, Surrey

Jeeves wasn't good anyway I think. I used Metacrawler before the monsterous Google.com came along and starting to play Pacman with all the other search engines. Sure it sucks cus he was a character that people could say "Hey have you seen jeeves in his butler suit? DAMN" etc. I won't miss it
Chris Webster, Walsall, UK

Can anyone compete with Google..? I think it's going to take some pretty amazing ad campaigns to tempt people away from a format which they are familiar with and seems to work...
Jessica Porter, Oxford, UK

The old butler ads worked faster. The new "Ask and you'll get" concept requires two thought processes: ask and you'll get, followed by "this is a search engine". Too slow.
Nigel, London

Hmph. After seeing the ad, I made a conscious choice to stick with Google, simply because they were trying to persuade me otherwise. Guess consumer perverseness doesn't feature in their marketing plans.
Deepti, Nottingham, UK

I must have seen that ad a dozen times but had no idea what it was advertising. Ooops.
Sue K, London

Ditching Jeeves has the hallmark of a suicide move. Now the company has no face. It's just another search engine among many. Who needs it, when we have Google?
Ian Cox, Ilford

They may have improved immensely, but the problem with AskJeeves is that to begin with, and for a long time, it was simply not very good; results were very often completely irrelevant or blatant advertising portals that blanketed anything you searched for . The Jeeves character was irritating because the results were always disappointing in comparison to Google, Yahoo, Altavista, etc., which never employed gimmicks. A case of the servant taking the blame for the master's mistakes, and too late to change public perception.
justin ward, london UK

yes they are real police in the ad, and would probably push any one who asked them. And I think it is my car in the background too.
Amanda, Auckland New Zealand

I think the new site is B....O...R....I...N...G. I will now thank these people for cutting their own throats and I will stay with Google. That is my way of saying thankyou for axeing the Butler. Bring him back and i will come back. Leave him gone, and I will stay gone. As Homer said..D'oh!
Doug, Peru, In

The 'soundtrack' or song is The Postal Service 'Such Great Heights', but i don't know who is performing it.
Phil, Bristol

i loved jeeves. why dont they create an ask site for men and ask jeeves for women? eh? eh? EH???
Poppy, newport, s.wales

I think it's a great ad - but I'll still be using google...
chazz, Wolverhampton

Sleep-searching? I've tried many, many search engines in my time, the simple fact is, Google is far and away the best.
Bransby, London

I understand Ask.com trying to get others to view their site instead of Google, but the problem is Ask.com just isn't very good. Until they come up something that shows Google to be inferior then they'll never win.
Matt, London

Branding aside, it always was a rubbish search engine... Improve its ability to return relevant results and it might get some more use!
Megan, Cheshire UK

Even though the soundtrack was sung by Iron and Wine it is a track by US band Postal Service. I sat watching the ad for the first time but kept getting the feeling I had heard the lyrics before. Then it came to me.
Ashley Goodchild, Basildon

I saw this advert a couple of times and enjoyed it. However, the next time it came on I couldn't for the life of me remember what it was advertising. The problem is that the advert builds up to the climax slogan "If you don't ask, you don't get" but the Ask.com logo only appears after that, after the most interesting climactic point of the ad. As a result it's impact is lost a little.
Andrew J, Oxford

Said a lot and nothing a the same time. The message is not clear to me...Has askjeeves reinvented itself? What are they doing different than before?
Flover Barrero, Bogota, Colombia

A simple advert that expresses the new slogan well...very effective in raising awareness of the product. However I still search using Google. Sorry !
Tim, Aylesbury, UK

The only reason I used askjeeves, was because of jeeves. Now that's gone, its a very boring way to search. I didn't mind putting up with the crazy amount of ad's before, but now I'll keep away. The best feature of Askjeeves, was when you could design your own character to search for you, it seemed like there was innovation, while now its got an reasy to remember name, but not much else.
Jimmy, Bromley, Kent

I stopped using AskJeeves because it was rubbish. It never gave me what I asked for, no matter how I put the question. So, no, rebranding won't tempt me back, no 'quaint' adverts will persuade me to take a look. If only they would say 'hey...we're better at this stuff now, promise' i might try...but that would be too simplistic, wouldn't it?
Michelle, London

It sounds like an interesting ad - but it doesn't really address the big problem Ask had. Their search engine simply wasn't very good. Before Google arrived, I tried pretty much every search engine going from Yahoo! to Dogpile. The idea of asking real English questions sounded great - but every time I tried it, the results were useless. When Google arrived I soon discovered it would find what I needed with the minimum of trouble. Which is why I preferred them, and still do - and until Ask can convince me they can actually do a better job that's not going to change.
Joel Lewis, London

It wasn't the butler that stopped me using Ask Jeeves, it was the ridiculous preponderance of sponsored links and ads; you always had to scroll down half the page to get any normal answers. At least Google keeps these to a minimum and pushes most of them off to the side.
Susi, Brighton, UK

When I did a search on Ask.com to find out the name of the song they used in the ad, it came back with a load of irrelevant results. When I put exactly the same search criteria in Google, the first result gave me the information I wanted. Forget the pretty advert and the rebranding, it's what the product does that counts.
Matt, Sheffield

What a load of rubbish that advert is; people use Google because it gets results not because of its advertising. Perhaps if Ask.com worked as well as Google its market share would grow but I doubt that it will just because of an ad.
Richard Read, London, UK

I use google most of the time, when I have used Yahoo or Ask to see if I get anything different invariably I get exactly the same result. It would help if all the search engines weren┐t so financially driven wanting to provide you with the sites providing services/products first of all instead of actually looking for the most relevant sites for your query.
Simon Roberts, Tunbridge Wells

To lose Jeeves altogether seems like a fairly short-sighted move on the part of the company. It gives people too much credit to suggest that the average person has enough knowledge about the machinations of search engines (or indeed cares enough) to make informed decisions. In fact, Google is Yahoo is Altavista. Ask marked itself out with a difference people could understand; now it doesn't matter how fashionable it is, or effective it claims to be. I have no reason to leave my comfortable Google niche.
James, London

Sounds like another of those re-branding decisions that sink well-known organisations into total obscurity. I rather liked Jeeves, and I'm less likely to use the site now they've dumped him.
Helen, England

I don't envy ask.com in trying to lure people away from Google. Everyone I know uses Google as their primary search engine. I work in an office where to google has become a verb i.e. "I dont know try googleing it" When asked a question.
Mike Rodgers, Exeter UK

"No", I realise this is trite, ut being fair minded I tried Ask (Jeeves) exclusively as my search engine for two weeks, and the returns were dross, missing sites I knew existed and Ask was pointing me to non-productive links. Therefore I went back to (a horribly over-commercial) Google. I do use others when I need to see reason...
Harry, London

I'm afraid that no search engine can compare to Google. ASK! just doesn't cut the mustard and why advertise something on TV when people are moving away from TV and onto the web?!?
Mark, London UK

Ask Jeeves was the site I always use(d)when I needed information. I considered stopping when they killed off Jeeves, but I still prefer them to the giants Google and Yahoo.
Pam, Newark, DE

The ad itself isn't too objectionable (nothing amazing though) what gets me is that they spliced up a really nice song and badly bodged it together . For the record the song is "Such great heights" covered by a band called Iron and Wine
Bekki, Kent, UK

Google is a terrific search engine, so is there actually a need for another one ? Perhaps they could "Ask.com" themselves that ?
Paul O'Brien, Plymouth

It's a good advert, but let's face it, 'Google' has reached the point where it is becoming the generic term for searching. When we don't know something, we 'Google it'. It's just like 'Hoovering' (except Google doesn't suck, in my opinion!).
Gary Rogers, Basingstoke, UK

I used to enjoy asking Jeeves "Are you paying royalties to the estate of P.G. Wodehouse for using his character?" but I never got a meaningful reply.
Herbert G., Leeds, UK

All far to subtle for me - the one time I saw the ad I didn't pick up on any of those subtler messages. Of course it doesn't help that I usually start surfing the net when the adverts are on. I'm also in the habit of muting the ads, though in this case that shouldn't have made any difference. Am I the only person who does this?
Peter Jump, Bristol

I for one am not going to use this site any more. The face of the butler gave the site a more personal touch and meant that it was like asking questions to an actual person rather than just typing 2 or 3 search terms into a box. It was different and gave the site, literally, character. Now it is just a box the same as all the others, and so I am going with google as they seem to give better results.
Lizzy, London

The simple truth is that the results on Ask are not as good as the results on Google. No matter what advertising campaign they have, users will choose the better search engine.
me, here

Excellent question! Will we get what we ask for? Not a chance. I am sick and tired of searching for something specific and getting row upon row of links to directories or yet another utterly pointless link to ebay! Search engines are barely worth using. The providers need to learn about searching. They are no better than call centres who cannot provide true customer service.
Jonathan, Slough UK


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