April 13, 2010

Why Is Ask.com Selling the Drill Bit?


By Matt Dickman

One of the earliest bits of marketing knowledge that was imparted to me was the lesson of the drillbit. The saying is along the lines of, "People don't buy a 1/4 inch drill bit, they buy a 1/4 inch hole". The focus on the end result and the benefit over the feature has stuck with me over time.

Photo by johntrainor

When I started seeing the new ad campaign for Ask.com, this lesson came flying back into my mind. The ads are mostly unbranded placements that focus on their algorithm. My immediate thought was "I bet Google is doing this", not good for Ask. Secondly I thought "Who cares about the algorithm?".


Here is their algorithm TV ad

If you are not a computer scientist or an engineer at a search company, why should you care about the algorithm? I don't think most Americans know what an algorithm is, much less how it benefits them.

I don't envy the position Ask is in. They are a smaller player in an industry with a LOT of very well funded competition. This campaign, however, is not helping their cause. Selling the algorithm is the equivalent of selling the drillbit. What I'm really after are better search results. That's the hole they should be selling. That's the need I have that needs to be filled and is currently filled well by


Their new TV campaign does have more focus on the benefit even if the over-the-top, broadway-esque production detracts from the message. He got what he was looking for. They need to expand on this point with new ads that reach more people.

Search is a game that extends well beyond the browser. I interact with my search engine of choice from my global search on my desktop, from the toolbar on Firefox, from my OSX dashboard widget and they touch my life in many other ways too. Ask needs to tell me why I should make those moves and dislodge my current option. Their new 3D search is a start, but it's not really much different than what Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are doing. The results seem about the same too.

Photo by stan

My question is why should I switch? I asked, now I'll wait for the answer. What would make you switch? Are they doing enough with these ads to make you try them out?


Matt Dickman is an interactive marketing strategist, speaker and technology evangelist working at DigiKnow, Inc. in Cleveland, Ohio. To see this post and so many otheres, check out his blog, Techno//Marketer (http://technomarketer.typepad.com). It explores the convergence of marketing and technology. He can be reached at mattdickman@gmail.com.

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