There's been some buzzing so far this week about the premier of "Treasure Hunters," NBC's over-hyped version of The Amazing Race and the giant promotional tie-in with #4 search engine, Ask.com. I haven't watched the show, but apparently, Ask.com is pretty well integrated with contestants heading to the search engine to look up information, research clues and generally find the information that they need to get to the next step of the game. With that in mind, you'd think that Ask would make sure that they were putting on a good showing...after all, the promo tie-in couldn't have come cheap and when you're sitting in the single digits of search share against three companies that have double digits...well...you just need to look good.
Ask.com started off good, using their corporate blog to promote both Treasure Hunters and the Ask.com tie-in and even using it to build a little buzz on a future blog post that will tell what the mysterious numbers "96" on the back of contestants Ask.com t-shirts means. (It couldn't be that Ask Jeeves was founded in '96 could it? nahhh...that's just too easy....)
Bruce Clay's Lisa Barone did watch the show and commented on that the on-screen tie-ins were a bit hokey, but still relevant and likely provided some good branding...
Each three-person team (there are nine left after last night) must "scramble across the globe" to figure out clues in pursuit of "historical artifacts" that will lead them to a mysterious "coveted grand prize". I know, it sounds ridiculous. And really, it is. But then there's Ask!
The contestants use Ask.com to help them decipher the codes and riddles along the way. Last night they learned about US presidents, Mt. Rushmore and Mt. Theodore Roosevelt. They even got to sport Ask.com T-shirts with the number 96 on the back and yell things like, "We should have used Ask.com!" I admit it, I was jealous.
Treasure Hunters also has a "play at home" game that users can compete in by using...you guessed it...Ask.com to help find the answers. That's great and all, and is a fun and unique way to promote Ask.com the search engine, but the question boils down to this... will the experience that play at home contestants have with Ask.com give them a positive influence of the search engine or a negative one? This is where I once again turn to comments from the blog realm to make the point for me...
Marketing Shift's Evan Roberts, point is out that while it's great to see contestants using the search engine to find the answers to the clues they are given, it looses a bit of its appeal when you find that Google answers the same question quite a bit faster...
To do a little comparison I went 3 major engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN) and compared them to Ask.com's results using the same query to answer the question as it was presented on TV:
"Thomas Edison Nicknamed his Kids?"
Google had an answer at #1, Yahoo at #1, MSN #10 and Ask.com had it at #8. Being as the show is so new they still have time to correct this otherwise Ask maybe wasting a lot of money on their sponsorship.
Umm...that doesn't really bode well for Ask (or MSN) now does it? Now, I'm not one to promote the idea of hand-tweaking the search results, but Evan also points out...
My thinking is that you make the answer the top result or near the top so that when a new user comes to Ask.com to find the trivia answer it takes them one search. As the search engine underdog you have to hope they find out how unbelievably easy it is to use and how accurate the results are (even if you are cheating). Otherwise, what is the reasoning for paying all that money for that sponsorship?
Interestingly enough, about an hour after Evan wrote the above, he came back to note that the search results had been changed at Ask.com and that the top results now give the answer in the snippet of text that is returned on the search results page.
From my point of view, I'd think that Ask would want to put the focus on some of the special features that they offer that makes 'search easier' in order to play off the buzz they are already building with their TV commercials. Instead of trying to go head to head with Google in terms of quality of results, why not focus on the unique features of ask like the Binoculars Site Preview, the Zoom Related Search, the Famous People Search or any of the wide variety of Smart Answers?
Maybe Ask does plan to work those features into future tie-ins on the show. Maybe we're all being a bit too hard on them rather than giving them a chance to work out the kinks. After all, Ait's not like Google or Yahoo! or even MSN went to the trouble of snagging themselves such a high-profile pop culture tie-in. I'll be interested to see how all of this works out for them in the long run. I certainly wouldn't argue over having four engines running in a real race as opposed to just three.
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Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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