The Algorithm is a Bust


I had my first encounter with's "The Algorithm" campaign via a banner ad today, and was appalled on a number of fronts. No, it wasn't the traction-from-tragedy hook of the frame reading "THE UNABOMBER HATES THE ALGORITHM" that got my goat (though that's pretty nasty in inself, and is drawing criticism), it's the utter ineptitude of's marketing efforts that has me flummoxed.

I can postulate a pretty likely scenario here. "Hey guys," says ad firm Crispin Porter + Bogusky, "we've put together a fabulous teaser campaign that will virtually require users to visit a specially-created 'Algorithm' site. Once we've got them there, we can sell them on the superiority of's algorithm and convert all those long-suffering Google users to the cause."

Which would have been fine if the teasers were engrossing and inviting (instead they're obscure and confusing), and if was engaging and informative (instead it, too, is obscure and confusing), and, finally, if the product was worthy of all this attention.

The source where I encountered this ad -- The Washington Post -- carries the banner right above the site search box, which proclaims "Results from Google". If "The Algorithm" was such a fabulous thing it would actually work well enough that people used it without the benefit of a $100 million advertising campaign.

Replying to questions posed by WebPro News, Greg Ott (Ask's VP of Marketing) was dismissive of criticisms of the campaign, and displayed the same fuzzy-mindedness that the ad campaign itself does. "Most people don't give much thought to the search they use," Ott said, as if all search engines were created equal, and hopping from Google to Ask is simply a question of marketing, rather than worrying about the results the search engines actually deliver.

Well, guys, "The Algorithm" is actually "An Algorithm", and how it stacks up against other algorithms is the whole point, not simply the fact it exists. And how does Ask's algorithm stack up against the competition? Allow me to add one more frame to the banner ad I saw today in response...



You Blow Hard

Aaranged, you're a cynical blow-hard. First, who are you to decide what the goal should be of Ask's marketing efforts? It's their money, so let them spend it and judge them by what medium-term market share changes it does or doesn't bring them.

Second, Greg Ott is much closer to right than you are in his response to criticisms. By most counts *is* as good or better than, and just because 2/3 of internet users think 'search = Google', that doesn't mean search actually equals Google. The cynicism just seeps through your post, implying that Google is and forever will be the best search engine, yet aren't *you* supposed to be one of the internet in-the-know type people, the ones who supposedly slay Goliaths with new technology?

Give in to the borg if you cojones fail you, but **give the folks at Ask some freakin' respect for an ad campaign that everyone's talking about!**

Seemed list a bust to me too...

I saw one of their commercials a week or so ago, and I have to say that I thought it was nuts. Has the avg. person watching TV ever even heard the word "algorithm" before? I'm pretty sure if I wasn't in the SEO biz, I wouldn't have had the faintest idea of what they were talking about, nor would I have cared to research it further.

It's not a word people use. I was surprised at the commercial.

Unless their target audience is scientists, maybe?

I was a scientist

and I spent alot of time with flow charts. Now I also spend a lot of time with flow charts, but I am a complete novice despite my 23+ years of schooling. Funny how that works.

The algorithm means nothing to John Q. Public.

If I were the creative on this project, I'd be giving thanks for the amazing gift the name "ask" delivers:

All you need to do is

or and you shall receive


Ask me if I care:


Don't be afraid to


Curious? Just

maybe they're going for the

maybe they're going for the geek - techie target w/ this campaign? that's the only explanation i can think of after checking out who knows, maybe they believe that departure from Google has to happen from "the inside" and the techie set who will fuel it into wider demographics.

so many cheaper ways to

so many cheaper ways to reach geeks than mass market TV spending. if that is their target they just missed them.


Throw a few scientific words in that Joe Public doesnt understand and he's bound to be impressed by the high tech nature of it all. Just maybe the campaign is more devious and psycholgical than we appreciate.

Shock Campaign

Ah, its one of those shock campaigns and I'll have to admit that the UNABOMBER billboard was quite a shock for some. That one may be doomed for failure.

Give in to the borg if you cojones fail you, but **give the folks at Ask some freakin' respect for an ad campaign that everyone's talking about!**

So far, the talk is within Ask's small following. As mentioned above, most don't know what the heck the "Algorithm" is. Nor do they know what is. Its a great little engine that could...

Who is going to buy them before year's end?


I'me with cabbagelooking - some marketing guy who dosn't know what an algorithem is - let alone a heuristuc) is thrying to baffle the public with waffle.

It's an old Ad trick, beer

It's an old Ad trick, beer companies (okay that is where my attention is at) used to do it to focus attention and pretend they had something nobody else had:

One Beer company used to talk about: Kruesening (I probably spelled that wrong but I'm too lazy to look it up.)

Olympia Beer: 'Artisians'

Other products:

Burger King used to talk about 'special sauce' which turned out to be mayo.

Some toothpaste company renames floride so it sounds proprietary.

The point is, as cabbagelooking suggests, gain peoples attention with something they don't know and something that makes you appear unique. Sure it's blue smoke and mirrors but advertising, and politics, are all about smoke and mirrors.

I would like to read the site...

...but because it is flash and the text is sooo small, I can't.

Are there any levels that this is a good thing??

Perhaps the only one is that it is so bad, it is being talked about... .maybe that was the plan..

John I agree

I agree your ideas are more sound than the stuff ASK is using in their commercials.
I see ther TV ads and actual cringe. Who came up with this campaign?
I am a fan of ASK, Diller and industry underdogs in general. I root for the day ASK takes 10% of search share if only to see someone take Google down a peg. These ads won't do it.
I do believe their demo would be more impressed if they were shown side by side results, local shopping coupons and simple nifty maps.


Search advertising campaign's have all been a huge bomb.
That Ms. Dewey from M$N is way cool, but it is bomb when it comes to converting anyone away from google. Of course the fact that M$N search is truly the worst may not have helped the conversions much. ;-)

Someone said something about people not thinking about the search they use... Of course they don't think about it, they Google it. No one thinks about search because 'everyone knows' that google is the best search, its the one all the geeks use... Google doesn't advertise on mass media because it is not a part of their 'image' to be main stream.

I would also be willing to bet that as soon as the first mass media ad campaign for google hits the air waves, google's market share will drop... Anyone wanna place a bet?

Google is THE textbook example of viral marketing.

Maybe Ask, M$N and Yahoo should be studying Google's viral marketing rather than wasting their money on mass media ad campaign's that don't work.

If you want to bring down a giant... Do what they do, only do it better.

Jeopardy teams up with Google

I would also be willing to bet that as soon as the first mass media ad campaign for google hits the air waves, google's market share will drop... Anyone wanna place a bet?

Well, let's see. Does this qualify as "first mass media"?

Beginning Friday, viewers who log on to ( will find an additional clue/answer drawn from one of the featured categories from that day's broadcast to which they can use the Google search application to find the correct answer. Online participants will then be entered into a sweepstakes for a chance to win the daily $100 prize or the $25,000 grand prize.


Nope not direct advertising.

Looks like more viral... Everyone knows... Google is the best... Even the smart guys at Jeopardy uses them.

Side note: Aaron, the captcha's suck. Every time I gotta enter them two or three times...


Every time I gotta enter them two or three times.

lol! Got me on my last post too, exactly three times. That means they are working. :)

Jeopardy and the cynical SEO

Great link pageoneresults. I'm reminded of MSN's pay-to-search initiative recently discussed here, though the Google-Jeopardy strikes me (a la lots0 comment) as bit more sophisticated.

shorebreak, I may be a cynical blow-hard, but I'm basing my assessment of Ask's algorithm on what I observe as the relative relevancy of their results, rather than their market share. Ask is going to have to come up with much better weapons if they hope to slay this particular Goliath.

I've said it before

and I'll etc... (and I don't think I'm the only that noted this), but the worst thing about this campaign is that the marketing department don't actually appear to have considered sem. At least they've got the PPC up now.....

Algorithms "keep the beat"

I asked the girlfriend it she ever saw the commercials and she said yes. Then I asked her what an algorithm was and she said it “keeps the beat” doesn’t it?

I agree

The campaign is viral since the controversy of it all is driving traffic... but it is also using the insult as many as you can and see what happens approach...

The Algorithm Constantly Finds Jesus... guess 75% of the world that is not Christian use another engine to find their god.

The Unabomber is tasteless given he killed three and wounded another 23.... Why not pedophiles use The Algorithm to find your children.

off topic

...she said it “keeps the beat” doesn’t it?

The more I think about your girlfriend's comment the more I think she what she said is Brilliant.

The algorithm in an abstract kind of way does "keep the beat".

Why the hell do they put

Why the hell do they put their search box at the bottom of the page?


Why the hell do they put their search box at the bottom of the page?

It's what I call Grocery Store marketing.
Make the potential customer go past all your goods before they get to what they want. Ever notice how the Milk and Bread in a Grocery Store are always in the very back of the store?

this just shows me that, just don't get Internet Marketing.

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