IAC's search engine pairs with goofball video blog Ask a Ninja in a sponsorship reminiscent of the live-read radio spots of old.
Question: What do you get when you cross a ninja with one of those live-read radio sponsorships of old -- you know, the ad spots news hosts and celebs used to read on-air?
Answer: Ask.com's latest digital ad initiative.
The IAC/InterActiveCorp-owned search engine has paired with goofball video blog Ask a Ninja on an ad deal in which the show's host and namesake reads the sponsor copy himself -- and then offers bonus clips to fans who query Ask with special ninja-themed search terms. The three-month relationship, which also includes run-of-site display ads, was brokered by Ask a Ninja rep Federated Media Publishing.
From now until September, episodes of the popular video blog conclude with the sponsor placement and a call to action.
"This episode was brought to you by Ask.com," screeches the ninja as a search term appears below his face in the video frame. "Go to Ask.com, type in this ninja word twice as fast as you physically can, and you'll either get a cool ninja video treat or a sword in your head. That's a pretty good deal. I'd take that risk, but I'm a ninja."
The show's creators developed a total of nine ninja words and accompanying video clips for its sponsor, including "ningiants," "ninjuice," and "nonja." Viewers conducting Ask.com searches on these terms are taken to a single result, known at Ask.com as a Smart Answer, leading to a short clip with bonus Ask a Ninja content exclusively for campaign respondents.
Early response rates are good. In the first two weeks of the campaign, 8.3 percent of viewers have searched on Ask.com's ninja-related terms and watched the videos.
"There isn't advertising that is able to drive that kind of response rate," said Chas Edwards, chief revenue officer at FM Publishing. "But there certainly is opportunity around the ninja to drive that response rate around himself and his content" by incorporating a call to action and a pay off that takes place within the search experience.
FM prides itself on building campaigns that seek to drive audience participation over sheer reach. Success stories have included Absolut and Cisco. For the latter, FM asked its coterie of tech bloggers to describe what "human network," Cisco's campaign tagline, means to them. A resulting landing page containing the responses of such writers as Michael Arrington and Om Malik has been linked by hundreds of bloggers and editors, including a Wikipedia editor who created a "human network" entry on the reference site, according to Edwards.
FM doesn't take payment for such buzz generated by its campaigns. Rather it bills for them as it would any other sponsorship. The pay-off for the company is future business and engagement cred.
"Cisco went away thinking we and they were taking a smart approach to marketing. The benefit we get is a longer, more consistent, more lucrative relationship with Cisco," said Edwards. "Around 99 percent of our time with prospective advertisers is spent talking about conversational marketing as an approach to digital advertising. I would then say that 60 to 80 percent of insertion orders come in because someone is buying into some aspect of conversational marketing."
Edwards said executions like those for Cisco and Ask.com considerably outperform traditional banner campaigns, but advertisers tend to underestimate the work involved. Many, he said, simply aren't ready to execute a "conversational" campaign on time, and end up parlaying their sponsorship budget into a banner buy.
For Ask.com, a main benefit of the Ask a Ninja deal is that it's concrete, something not always easy to achieve for a digital service like a search engine, according to Ask.com Director of Marketing Sean Cummings. "An online brand is actually quite nebulous, so integrating your product into [the campaign] is very important," he said.
FM now counts 1.5 to 2 billion total available impressions in its network across just under 600 million page views. Its top 25 sites represent 75 to 80 percent of its total business.
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
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