Ask's latest branding campaign is intended to frighten or offend most of its potential customers. It does the job brilliantly.
The TV spots feature some nerdy guy with his chin resting on a pregnant woman’s shoulder, whether she’s walking down the street or laying in bed. He asks questions that she might predictably ask. The punchline is that Ask.com will help you find the answers.
To say that it's creepy is an understatement, especially when the guy in bed is wondering aloud if it's ok for the would-be mom to have sex with her partner. It's also insulting, as he's obviously ethnic (for some incomprehensible reason), which makes Motrin's baby sling campaign (which drove this week's Twitterfest of hate) seem like a downright compliment to all of womanhood.
I can’t imagine why the braintrust at Ask would think that there's a brand attribute in Internet search more important than accuracy or utility.
Maybe that's what they're trying to get at with the campaign, but the message is obfuscated by all the creative and complex nonsense that brand experts regularly wrap around otherwise simple ideas. Ask can't make the case for why its search is better, faster, easier, or othewise different from Google, Yahoo, MSN, or any number of lesser entrants in the category; it must instead make a statement about its brand.
Talk about a search query that turns up snake eyes.
Watching TV is kind of like aimless search, in that the consumer is somewhat aware and/or receptive to getting information, even if he or she wasn't necessarily actively looking for it. That's the premise behind advertising overall: throw stuff at people who broadly might possess some willingness to buy your stuff, and hope that whatever it is you're telling them catches them at the right moment to actually register.
And an ad...any ad...has a really limited amount of time in which to earn that attention, as well as implant an idea that'll get used later on. Or prompt an action that'll be more immediate (call, write, inquire, whatever). In this sense, all advertising is direct, ultimately, even if all it asks you to do is to remember the content.
Ask's challenge to use this nanosecond it captures of your our attention to communicate that it provides better search. There are probably lots of ways to make this care, many of them really fun and creative. But the overarching goal is to make that case in a simple, unambiguous way. There's little reason to do much else.
So what’s Ask's branding answer? It wants you to remember the creepy guy. Or get offended because he’s a stereotype of one sort or another. At best.
In this way, the brand fails to deliver on the very premise of its campaign. It can't even answer its own inquiry: how do we attract new users?