A Final Farewell to Jeeves

Search engine Ask Jeeves today unveiled a redesign and rebranding, under which it leaves behind the butler that previously gave the site its name.

In his keynote address at Search Engine Strategies conference, IAC Chairman and CEO Barry Diller characterized the butler as “baggage” that was holding back Ask.com from being viewed as a top-tier search engine instead of a natural-language question-and-answer site, as it was in its early days.

“The Jeeves character brought a nice human, emotional touch, and that’s not bad. But it connoted something I don’t think it would allow Ask to play in the central world of search,” Diller said.

The new Ask.com site is the culmination of work over the past five years to focus on the company’s Teoma search technology and de-emphasize the site’s roots as a natural language search engine, an approach which was represented by the butler, according to Ryan Massie, senior product manager at Ask.com.

“Jeeves represents the question-and-answer branding of the site in the late ’90s, and he was very valuable in that role,” Massie told ClickZ News. “Jeeves has come to represent the old product and the old brand. He doesn’t reflect the serious search engine that Ask.com has become.”

The company has been looking at ways to grow its brand for several years, promoting its search prowess over its helpful butler as far back as its 2003 marketing campaign. Jeeves was back in the spotlight in 2004, when he got a makeover, slimming down and getting a more modern look to match the redesign of the Ask.com site at the time.

The impetus for rebranding accelerated last year when Ask.com was acquired by IAC. Diller signaled in September that Jeeves’ fate was sealed, when he said on an investor call, “Jeeves will disappear, and we will be called Ask or Ask.com. Not that I don’t like that fat butler, though he’s actually a thinner butler now.”

The company has begun saying goodbye to the Jeeves character, with a mini-site dedicated to the character’s retirement plans, a farewell video, and a place on the Ask.com homepage where he has been riding off into the sunset.

Ask.com will launch a major television branding campaign beginning March 8, with online support beginning March 12. The company isn’t sharing details of the creative units or media placements involved, but Diller did let slip the campaign’s tagline: “Use Tools. Feel Human,” which is meant to empower users, according to Greg Ott, Ask.com’s VP marketing.

“It’s really focused on making search better, and showing what search does for you, Ott told ClickZ News. “When you have the right tools, it makes you feel better.”

Along with the rebranding, Ask.com today unveils several new features on its site, most notably a customizable search toolbox on the home page that allows users to search using one of Ask.com’s various search tools without having to reload the page. Tools include Ask.com’s recently launched image search, local search driven by IAC’s Citysearch, and a new mapping product similar to Google Maps.

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