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Ask Jeeves Plans New Marketing Push

Search engine Ask Jeeves , having spent $100 million to build its brand during the dot-com madness, plans its first long-term ad campaign in two years.

The Emeryville, Calif.-based company said Monday it selected TBWA/Chiat/Day in San Francisco as its agency of record and OMD as its media buyer. TBWA, which handles Ask Jeeves' UK advertising, is charged with changing the search engine's brand message. Rather than emphasizing its natural-language search capabilities, as ads have done in the past, the new effort will focus on its robust search capabilities, which give users the answers they want.

With the marketing blitz following its $42 million IPO in July 1999, Ask Jeeves established its ubiquitous butler icon in the public imagination, encouraging people to come to "him" with a question. The company emphasized this further with its Web address, Ask.com. Now, after overhauling its search technology with the integration of Teoma, the company wants to re-engage the public to brag about its search tools.

"We're going to be taking the approach that Ask Jeeves is a serious search engine," said Heather Staples, Ask Jeeves' chief marketing officer. "Because there was such a significant investment, we believe there's a lot of latent awareness of the brand. It's the, Oh yeah, I remember them factor."

Staples said Ask Jeeves and the agencies had not worked out a media mix, but she ruled out television ads in favor of lower cost alternatives like online, radio and outdoor. While the company has eschewed large ad campaigns, it has continued to push its brand through smaller efforts, such as an outdoor campaign to hype the Jeeves float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and another major-city billboard campaign last month.

Since acquiring algorithmic search company Teoma in September 2001, Ask Jeeves has worked on improving its search technology to compete with the likes of Google. Earlier this year, Ask Jeeves re-launched Teoma with a bevy of new search features.

"Now that we've been able to integrate a great quality algorithmic search technology with Teoma, we also have great quality results," Staples said. "The difference with Ask Jeeves is we're blending those results with different tools that allow people to search more effectively."

She said the first ads would appear in May, both online and on the radio. While the focus will be on functionality, Staples said the dapper Jeeves would retain a central role.

"We think there's a lot of value in the butler icon," she said.