Why does every attempt to gain market share with clever ad campaigns fail? Why do search companies still think throwing ad dollars at the problem will work? Defining insanity with identical repetitive activity is becoming the norm for search sites, but it doesn't have to be that way.
MSN's upcoming ad campaign surrounding the release of its new search technology dubbed "Kumo," also know as "Project Kiev," and the reported $100 million ad budget is headed for yet another agency with marching orders to magically increase search market share.
Having met key people in multiple levels at MSN like Satya Nadella, Eric Picard and Mel Carson, I know MSN is not short in the talent department. History has taught us that great talent + cute and edgy ad initiatives ? more searchers.
It's time for a change in how to approach the market. It's time to learn from past blunders, and the answers might just be outside the search box.
Parade of failures
Fix it because it's broke. On Sept. 6, 2006, Crispin Porter + Bogusky began turning out an amazingly creative, edgy execution that successfully got the attention of everyone in the ad business. My, that initiative was going to look great at an awards ceremony.
"The Algorithm" homepage even had an abstract reference to our man Dmitry Sklarov's view of a poorly encrypted DRM file. The reference to another aspect of the digital industry with its head up its arse -- while providing yet another excellent illustration of how an engine of the search variety works -- was most fortuitous.
The search box's suggestion? Experience instant gratification.
The algorithm initiative included drive to search activities online. Perceived multitudes of searchers could be educated and provided with a better experience. That just didn't happen.
Here's what the algorithm site looks like today:
In the end, Ask's campaign post mortem meeting might have touted the benefits of elevated awareness, but no elevated search market share occurred. In fact, during the time frame from September 2006 (campaign launch) to May 2007, Ask.Com lost about 10 percent of market share, according to Hitwise.
On a pop culture note, a "South Park" episode airing on March 28, 2007, featured kids making the sneer that "Nobody uses Ask Jeeves, just Google search it." The Butler had been dropped from Ask over a year earlier.
Nobody cares about your Butler. Don't you get it?
2005 MSN growth spurt
In February 2005, Microsoft planned to reach 90 percent of U.S. households 40 times in eight weeks. As I recall, the big, bold campaign had some great agencies involved as well. Shops like McCann Erickson and Avenue A were at the reins of this big event. The effort was so bold, it had to work.
Something did, and MSN had a 5.5 percent share of searches by July 2005. But by the following year, Hitwise showed MSN search at 11.8 percent, and MSN search was back at about 5.5 percent by December 2008.
Hundreds of millions of dollars to get right back where you started? That's gotta hurt. Why not throw another $100 million at the problem a few years later. It'll definitely work this time.
It's cruel to think a great product can be stagnant. If the creative is going to be effective, it has to be married to great technical execution. The driving triggers have to be more than following Google's selling point: "Don't just search. Find." That pretty much describes what I do every day on Google.
To bring them in, you have to be more compelling.
To keep them, you have to be clever.
Tell them and show them the great things they'll find. Great creative might actually get them there, but as history has taught us, it's hard to keep them when it's so easy to switch. Don't give them a learning curve, and for heaven's sake, please don't make them think.
Each and every ad campaign that attempts to gain market share fails. But why? Utter lack of actionable creative flow for starters. "The algorithm constantly finds Jesus." What does that even mean? We are witnessing the Paris Hilton syndrome of advertising: it looks good, it's pretty expensive, but it doesn't really do much to earn your respect and application.
These campaigns are more likely to inspire "Pribilof Stare" than they are more searches.
Hiring ad people to initiate search needs is like looking to an oncologist for a Pap Smear analysis. Sure, your average cancer physician is likely to have some well-founded opinions, but you are always going to be better with the experts. In this case, the searching, consuming public are the experts.
Change my mind...
The endless search for information retrieval utility through creative and aggressive spending reminds me of an old Russian friend's expression. With only two words, he summarized a worthless endeavor of mine: "??????? ????!" he used to say, and then shook his head. The Russian soul isn't something you can touch, but it's there, and you either get it, or you don't.
Since you, the engines, seem to want to change my mind, you'll have to suit my needs. Getting into the hearts and minds of searchers requires building needs and becoming indispensible. It requires clean, accurate, and relevant results. To date, no one has beaten Google in this effort.
The real secret sauce of the next generation of search will contain a multitude of ingredients that serve time, need, convenience, and desire. While Microsoft and Google duke it out in the information-seeking world, Apple will charge on with devices in the iPod family.
The media and creative surrounding the iPod are a cute and cozy afterthought when compared to the inherent desire our world seems to have for the device. To name a few, China, Japan, Italy, France, The Netherlands, Germany and the U.S. seem to have a need for this gadget from heaven.
The final solution, perfection... in aggregate
Well, even the best technologies have their faults. My Apple videos can't be played on my Xbox, and darned if I can't figure out how to get an iPhone for less than a thousand dollars. My iTunes keeps crashing my Vista (sorry, just plain Windows), and I REALLY want to update my music lists. No dice. It's too bad all those music files I bought can't be played anywhere else.
If the digital entertainment world could get together and decide on terms for protection, our world would change. Independent obstacles, when removed can create magical results. Devices would compete on their own merits.
Velvet ropes would part and champaign would flow from the heavens.
The real answer to search's great mystery lies in accumulating massive assets, utilizing those assets, and coming to market with them. Perhaps a search get-together is in order. A few people around the world have asked about the "Search World Summit," so maybe its time has come.
Whatever the approach to media might be, it's clear that a shift is in order. Not just a shift in creative focus or emotional triggers, but a shift in how we approach the most important aspect of the search: the people behind each need-defining query.