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SearchTHIS: IAC Acquires Ask Jeeves

Kevin M. Ryan
SearchTHIS: IAC Acquires Ask Jeeves Kevin M. Ryan

We interrupt this week's scheduled broadcast of “For Whom the Search Bell Tolls” (see the end of last week's column) for a special report.

Interactive IAC/Interactive Corp. -- the brains behind such popular web properties as CitySearch and Ticketmaster -- has made its intention to buy the second-tier Ask Jeeves search engine known. By doing so, IAC may help the struggling butler move out of the “also ran” search category.

Consolidations along with mergers and acquisition activity have become the status quo for search, and search engine marketers are often left holding the preverbal bag as they try to navigate the newly formed space. Often, the changes happen so quickly it’s difficult to plan or predict the after effects. 

SearchThis to the rescue! Here’s an outline of share of search, courtesy of up-to-the-minute data points from Nielsen//NetRatings, Hitwise and yours truly: It's a cheat sheet on the who-owns-what in search and how the latest M & A activity might affect you.

Search Mindshare

Unfortunately for IAC, when you mention internet search to the bulk of U.S. audiences, they will immediately free-associate to that wacky and super fun search site with the multicolored logo. The Butler and his new IAC friends have a few hills to climb in the coming months to help make the world of search a better place for formal attire.

Among the data floating around in the post-merger atmosphere was the inevitable share of mind points from industry researchers. The chart below provides a visual wake up for the uphill battle to come. Clearly, as of January, 2005, “search” for most Americans still means Google.

Nielsen’s Ken Cassar, director of strategic analysis, had this to say about the acquisition. "The acquisition by InterActive Corp. was imperative for Ask Jeeves, which required a greater base of capital in order to continue to innovate on par with Yahoo!, Google and MSN.”

To date, the butler brand has managed to come up with many of the tools offered by big players like Yahoo! and Google. There’s the Ask Jeeves desktop search, news search, local search, and of course a powerful move to create a more natural language search activity in the ask a question model.

Google followed by Yahoo! and the ever-growing MSN search, make the Ask Jeeves butler look a bit pale and old. Viewing the same data points from another angle, the Ask Jeeves situation starts to look a bit better. If you combine all the new Ask Jeeves/IAC brethren (My Way Search, iWon, and My Search), then the properties start to appear a bit more lucrative. In effect, this acquisition would nudge AOL search out of the number five spot with 6 percent of search activity for this time period. 


Search Mindshare Redux

So maybe Ask Jeeves jumping into IAC won’t be so bad after all. Always on the cutting edge of online intelligence, Hitwise offered the following assessment of the acquisition, by sorting out the internal activity data points. I do so enjoy pie charts, particularly this one, which shows the strengths and weaknesses of each piece of the Ask Jeeves pie.

Ask Jeeves Kids is an interesting case study on audience segmentation that we really haven’t seen anywhere else. The Kids site offers direct links to research and all things of interest to younger audiences, without all of the adult content baggage elsewhere on the web.

The kids line extension strategy must be working. According to Hitwise, Ask.com visitors were more likely to fall within the age groups that are most likely to have children and teenagers at home: 35-44 and 45-54: 47 percent of Ask.com visitors fall within these age groups, compared to 42 percent of all internet visitors (over four weeks ending 3/12/05).

While the Ask.com domain is clearly shown as a leader in the grand scheme of search servitude, the collective audience power of the combined assets is once again realized. Of course, the not-even-marginal MaxOnline could use some work so they might benefit from the inevitable post acquisition activity.

Integration Intelligence

What does the future hold? IAC announced plans to leverage IAC's leading brands and search revenue models by vertically integrating IAC's transaction brands and offers into the Ask Jeeves properties last week. They also plan to make Ask Jeeves the leader in content and merchant information, along with beefing up local content.

Another note in the acquisition announcement (placing the Ask Jeeves search box on every IAC site, exposing 44 million unique users per month to the Ask Jeeves brand) may have sparked a cautionary word or two from analysts. Nielsen//NetRatings' Cassar said: "IAC's biggest challenge will be to balance its desire to promote its own properties with its desire to maximize search revenues; two goals which will, at times, be at odds with each other."

At odds? Possibly, although as Hitwise pointed out, after visiting Ask.com, visitors were more likely to visit shopping and classifieds sites (15 percent) than search engines (10 percent) --  a handy tendency to have if one owns a local or shopping area like IAC’s CitySearch or Gifts.Com. It appears that Ask Jeeves has a head start on reaching out to specialized verticals. Despite a few caution signals, the traffic control devices on the search superhighway are reading all clear for integration.

IAC is clearly one of the more diverse companies in the interactive fray. Many IAC firms exist independently. The actions of Ticketmaster do not necessarily affect that of Match.com. In short, some work together, some do not, but smart integration of shopping or local search and directive search along with content properties in a manner that does not represent a conflict of interest will be key to building a better machine.

Additional resources:

Search THIS: Integration Concentration

Search THIS: Channel Conflicts


iMedia Search Editor Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations.

Meet Kevin Ryan at the Kelsey Group’s Drilling Down, The Online/Offline Opportunity April 18-20, 2005 and Ad:Tech San Francisco April 25-27, 2005.

When using the Google Translate product, brand names in the translated language that match the requested translation would be shown. Rather than default text ads, the ads would appear in the language of the user and help to whet his or her appetite for the other language product.

As an example, you translate the word "refrigerator" from English to German. The translated word, kuehlschrank, appears as normal. Below the translation, rich-media ads (including video, audio, et cetera) appear for companies that produce refrigerators in Germany, including Miele, AEG, Bauknecht and Liebherr.

A company can create "skins" for GoogleTalk that would allow the chat to be in a branded environment. Every 5-10 minutes, the users would see a 10-second advertisement for the brand.

Yahoo! offered this option years ago with its messenger product and it was very popular with advertisers. While this would not be for every demographic set, it might work well with pre-teens and teenagers. Imagine them chatting in an environment with Hanna Montana, Hillary Duff or John Cena.

I think it’s critical for Google to take this further by adding in newer technology such as Flash and Ajax. Interactivity with the characters and the brand would make this very sticky.

With the launch of the newly renamed iGoogle, what if users could select from
pre-defined branded layouts? Users would still be able to add their own widgets, gadgets, feeds, et cetera.

For example, you could select the Nike layout, which might include an exclusive Tiger Woods widget that is only available when using the Nike layout.

The product or service would "own" the page for the purchased period of time and could rotate the branded layouts as needed. For example, a company like Bath and Body Works could provide its beauty products based on seasonal changes. It could also offer exclusive coupons for iGoogle-branded users.

Another option with the branded layouts could be a point system. Each time you login to the Pepsi-branded iGoogle, points would be added to your account. And interacting with the layout would provide additional points. Those points could be traded in for Pepsi-related prizes.


KFC's infamous hashtag (#iatethebones) became an integrated campaign crossing over into TV, mobile ads, and all the usual-suspect social media outlets, asking customer to send in pictures of their disbelief at eating all the bones.

Social Media Backfires: The 10 greatest hits


But the company's playful intention took a turn to the dark side and incited people to post morbid tweets and disturbing memes, associating the brand with serial killers and bad behavior. Eating a piece of fried chicken might never be the same.

Social Media Backfires: The 10 greatest hits

Bank of America

In most cases, instant customer service via automated response on Twitter can work wonders for all parties. But not in the case of an angry citizen berating Bank of America's lack of empathy for regular Americans. No, this was not a good time to pull out the ol' staple tweet to take care of a customer's needs -- who turned out to not even be a BOA customer. The tweets continued, and BOA kept tweeting back its robotic responses -- sparking more anger and making the company look even more out of touch.

Social Media Backfires: The 10 greatest hits

Kenneth Cole

With lots of references to military garb swirling around in early September, Kenneth Cole couldn't help but incorporate the catch phrase "boots on the ground" into its fall Twitter roll-out. Although the brand got a lot of backlash and admitted to hiring a crisis management firm, the company unapologetically stood by the provocative tweet that upset a lot of customers. Controversial social media is not new for this brand, and it refuses to let a marketing faux pas disrupt its promotions. 

Social Media Backfires: The 10 greatest hits



Durex Condoms

An immediate condom delivery service sounded like a good idea to the brand Durex, until it polled Facebook asking what city would be most in need of instant protection. The contest was an open forum, with no parameters or choices for voters to pick from. The campaign took a bad turn when it was revealed that the conservative Turkish city of Batman (yes, this is a real place) took the top prize. It was forced to shut down the mockery-ridden campaign, and it inadvertently brought negative attention to a city's modest culture, offending many just by the association. This rubber campaign wasn't able to bounce back, ending in a total loss for Durex.

Social Media Backfires: The 10 greatest hits


Referencing a memorial day on social media sites can be a slippery slope for marketers, and this was especially true for AT&T's interesting tweet this past Sept. 11. The company's controversial picture caused many people to take to Twitter and Facebook to criticize the phone company for taking advantage of product placement. Although the company issued a public apology, the incident still cast an insensitive stigma on the brand -- something consumers won't easily forget.

Social Media Backfires: The 10 greatest hits


Pepto-Bismol's candid tweeted question (below) was, needless to say, already turning heads, but it was the misplaced comma that really got people going. People immediately responded to the odd comma placement with retweets and snarky responses like "log out forever." Although we're getting a good laugh at its expense, Pepto-Bismol shook off the minor blunder.   

Social Media Backfires: The 10 greatest hits



Offering food as a way to console someone in mourning might be fine in some cases, but not when a company is trying to sell scones -- in 140 characters or less -- following an act of terrorism. Epicurious (a food and menu site) curiously posted tweets following the Boston Marathon bombing in hopes to boost sales. Not surprisingly, that pissed off a lot of people. Regretful tweets were then issued after scathing remarks were made by the brand's followers. But, for some, it didn't excuse the company's initial intention to monetize the tragedy.

Social Media Backfires: The 10 greatest hits


It wasn't Kmart's "thoughts and prayers" message to the victims of the Newton School shootings that had people upset. It was the hashtag toy promotion (#Fab15Toys) embedded in the tweet that people found offensive. Maybe Kmart innocently overlooked the hashtag inclusion. Maybe it thought customers wouldn't notice the shoutout to its promotion, which happened to coincide with a shooting at an elementary school. Either way, it looked bad.

Social Media Backfires: The 10 greatest hits



Here's an example of a brand using bad weather to promote its website. Unfortunately, the storm turned out to be the monster Hurricane Sandy that resulted in fatalities and left thousands without electricity and many homeless. The company issued an apologetic tweet, backpeddling regarding the message of its original tweet. Damage control aside, many people were offended and didn't hold back in saying so.

Social Media Backfires: The 10 greatest hits


The McDonald's hashtag promotion, #McDStories, turned into a runaway marketing train when customers decided to share unpleasant stories about the brand and its employees. In theory, the concept sounds like a fun way to get people buzzing about why they love your brand. The obvious downside is managing the haters who will jump on any chance they get to make heckling comments. This McDonald's marketing story is one for the books: Control your social media before it controls you.

Social Media Backfires: The 10 greatest hits

Social Media Backfires: The 10 greatest hits

Betsy Farber is an editorial assistant at iMedia Connection.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"OOPS!" image via Shutterstock.


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