Where Fact Meets Fiction

If your idea of a comprehensive research site is Wikipedia, you might want to familiarize yourself with Answers.com.

Self-dubbed an “encyclodictionalmanacapedia,” the site is home to information on almost four million need-to-know topics. Content is licensed from brand-name publications and sources such as Houghton Mifflin, “Encyclopedia Britannica,” Barron’s, MarketWatch, and AccuWeather (some even comes straight from Wikipedia, to save you a trip).

Parent company Answers Corp. is also the provider of 1-Click Answers, a handy free desktop and browser reference search engine. Formerly known as GuruNet, it’s a little application that has been one of my favorite software tools for years.

As GuruNet, the company’s approach to advertising left something to be desired. Under its new identity, however, it’s an intriguing media buy. On Answers.com, which launched early last year, marketers can integrate sponsored content into the property’s answers or place banners in one of about 20 categories. Subjects including entertainment, technology, health, and travel are queried over 4 million times each day. The site itself received 11.2 million unique visitors in October, according to comScore Media Metrix.

Answers.com runs ads from Google AdSense and Shopping.com, but buyers can also book banners directly through the site. Clutter is kept to a minimum, and virtually any ad unit can be accommodated.

In short, Answers.com’s blend of search and contextual advertising has wide-ranging appeal. Recently, though, this resource built on facts did something unexpected.

It started to bluff.

This past July, Answers Corp. launched blufr, a trivia site that challenges users to differentiate fact from fiction. For example, Microsoft founder Bill Gates is a college dropout. If you said “way!” you’d be right and be presented with a new potential bluff (Gates dropped out of Harvard in his third year to pursue a career in software development).

Blufr is also home to bluf-o-grams, which allow users to write personalized bluffs and send them — e-card style — to their friends. The tool is also available for use by advertisers.

Classifying this as a form of advertising is a perplexing task. It’s a mix of viral marketing and grass-roots advertising, but it can also facilitate what essentially amounts to an Internet focus group. Marketers can use bluf-o-grams to test consumers’ knowledge of their products. Businesses can employ them to help introduce a new service. They’re a unique way to leverage one’s database of customers in lieu of a formal e-mail campaign.

Let’s say you’re promoting the new season of “The Sopranos.” You could generate excitement among fans with trivia about the show’s previous episodes. A site like WebMD, meanwhile, could help drive traffic with health-related bluffs, more information about which could be found online. “They’re a way to reach out and connect with somebody in a slightly more novel way,” says Jay Bailey, director of marketing with Answers.com.

This is one of those opportunities that isn’t appropriate for all advertisers. If your tastes lean toward the traditional, blufr’s conventional banner units might be preferable.

In an environment where marketers strive to connect with consumers through honesty and sincerity (blogs and social networks come to mind), it’s amusing that a new opportunity in this genre of advertising would be based on deception. I’ll look forward to seeing the creativity it evokes from marketers.

And that’s no lie.

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