Ask Jeeves Launches Outdoor Ad Push

Search company Ask Jeeves on Monday launched a billboard ad campaign in three major cities, hoping to capitalize on the success of an earlier outdoor campaign in the fall.

For the next month, Emeryville, Calif.-based Ask Jeeves will employ its natty butler, Jeeves, in outdoor advertising campaigns in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City. The advertisements will use the search engine’s theme, “Search for it. Find it. Ask.com.”

Each city has different creative specific to the region. In Los Angeles, Jeeves is identified on bus ads as “The Leading Man of Search,” while he is tabbed as “Search Star” on phone ads. In San Francisco, bus panels feature Jeeves as “Savvy Searcher,” and transit shelters say of Ask.com “The first place you search will be the last place you look.” New York City creative has the theme “Search that never sleeps” running on bus panels and phone booths.

The outdoor campaign follows Ask Jeeves’ similar push in the fall. Then, the company ran outdoor ads around New York City, laying the groundwork for Jeeves’ third appearance as a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Ask Jeeves said the New York campaign resulted in 20 percent higher traffic in the aftermath of the campaign — much of which it was able to retain. On the West Coast, Ask Jeeves has run advertisements at the Staples Center during Los Angeles Lakers games.

The use of bus panels and phone kiosks is a marked departure from the brand-building approach taken by Ask Jeeves in the dot-com days, when it spent an estimated $100 million building its brand with expensive TV buys.

With the dot-com crash, Ask Jeeves took a year off from advertising, instead investing to fine-tune its search technology. This process was accelerated, according to company executives, by the purchase of the Teoma search technology in September 2001. Ask Jeeves got quite a deal, paying less than $2 million in cash and 2.5 million shares of company stock for Teoma.

The Teoma acquisition was well timed, as the search industry soon exploded in the next year with the success of paid listings on the most-trafficked search engines, AOL, MSN, Yahoo and Google. With companies scrambling for position in the market, Overture recently agreed to pay as much as $240 million for AltaVista and the Web search unit of FAST Search and Transfer.

Since buying Teoma, Ask Jeeves has established itself as a top second-tier search site, with enough traffic to attract advertisers to its paid listings provided through Google’s AdWords service. Since ditching Overture for Google as its paid listings partner last July, Ask Jeeves has rode the wave of search mania, more than tripling its market capitalization since November. In the fourth quarter, the company was profitable and cash flow positive for the first time in its history.

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