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Monday, February 26, 2024

Ask's Guerrilla Marketing Campaign Against Google

Valleywag, Ask.com appears to be running a guerrilla marketing campaign
in the UK designed to seem like a grassroots effort against a Google monopoly in
search. The picture above, taken by
Ben Werdmuller
, shows one of the campaign’s ads on the London Underground.

The ad directs you to the
Information Revolution
site, on a domain owned by Ask’s ad agency
Profero, as the Curverider blog

sleuthed out
. Curverider also points out that a
search on
Google over at Ask’s UK site brings up an ad for the Information Revolution

ask information revolution

What’s the site’s pitch?

You found us. Nice one.

Now look slowly over both shoulders. (Don’t make it obvious. But don’t make
it look like you’re not being obvious.) Is anyone watching? If not, proceed to
the next paragraph. (Just don’t make it look like you’re going to the next

Did you know that more than 75% of people in the UK use just one search
engine to find information? The same search engine. The biggest search engine.
The most popular search engine.

If this keeps up, who knows what could happen? One company could eventually
control all access to information on the Web! Controlling your mind would only
be a step away! Then they’ll have you. All too easy…

But this is 2007, not 1984. So we’re fighting back before things get out of
hand. Raging against the machine, so to speak. The machine of conventional

We want to spread the message to try something new, to think differently,
to be your own person, to break away from the herd.

Join the Information Revolution!

Google doesn’t get named on the site, but it’s the obvious target. And to me,
the “movement” seems like it’s some type of attempt to get search regulated in
the UK, something that’s happened before. More on that in a bit. In reality, I assume the site is simply designed
to start spreading the word about Ask over time.

There’s a place for
comments on the site (annoying, the comments are all stuck in a CSS frame). Lots
of the comments show the campaign didn’t work perhaps has as expected:

  • My name is Situationist Bob and I am hijacking this empty marketing
    campaign to prevent all this money spent on advertising this site being wasted
    and I want to divert your attention for a moment to a site which briefly
    documents the bio of a man who has done more than most to take away our
    democracy and pull the wool over our eyes. Mr Rupert Murdoch.
  • It amuses me that you pitched your campaign at the very demographic that
    would be most disgusted when they (quickly) realised the site was simply a
    thinly-veiled marketing front. I hope there is some substantial backlash
    towards your clients, Ask.com.
  • Strange how of the four search engines you provide, only one of them
    returns this website when “information revolution” is entered. I wonder why no
    one has ASK’ed about this before
  • So Information-Revolution.org i ask myself: What are you about? Why so
    vague? Why not just come to the point. Name names! Please, what are you asking
    us to subscribe to here? Give us some facts, some proof, some statistics that
    tell us for sure we are being lied to, or are deliberately having information
    withheld! Why is the one search engine more popular than another? How did it
    get that way? Why do we trust one source more than another? Why is that a bad

One comment showing the campaign did work to get someone thinking about
changing still isn’t positive when that person leads off about feeling
“cheated,” as the person says:

I also got here following an ad clearly advertised in an ad space on a tube.
I felt slightly cheated as I was hoping for something else, but after reading
the comments on these two threads I am quite amazed. Am I the only one getting
the feeling everyone who is here slagging everything non-google off almost feels
like Google campaigners if anything? Brainwash (or employed) comes to mind. Has
all you people who slag off whatever non-google search engine actually tried any
of the alternatives? I mainly “google” myself, but this has gotten me thinking.

Eventually, an official response comes in:

Clearly we’ve hit on an issue that resonates with so many. We were hoping
this might spark debate and discussion and it’s exciting to see how many
people are getting involved.

We’re pleased to see so many different and challenging responses on here,
because it shows the importance and need for a variety of views – which is at
the heart of this campaign. It is not about whether one brand or company is
“better” than the others – there will always be different points of view on
that, but to highlight the importance of seeking a second opinion, everyone
needs one…two or three!

Taking one point of view, seeing things from one perspective, is not enough
– this is the point we’re trying to make. Would you sign up to a mobile tariff
without researching deals from the other networks? Would you only refer to one
newspaper to take all your views from? Would you buy a house based on the
first place you visited? Isn’t it better to proactively seek multiple
perspectives in every aspect of life?

So where do we go from here? Well, we’ll regularly add information to the
site to provoke your thinking, but the site will only remain as relevant as
the contributions you make to it. So please keep telling us what you think
about the importance of seeking a second opinion.

It’s pretty disappointing, as responses go. It doesn’t acknowledge that Ask
is behind the campaign, nor does it explain what the “movement” will do next.

I suppose if the point is to get people thinking about alternatives, the
campaign’s successful in doing that. But I can’t say it’s successful as a
branding tactic. It’s raising awareness with some about the Ask brand, but that
Ask was the brand that “cheated” or “lied” to get that awareness. How much
better if you’d arrived to a more straight-forward pitch that said something
like “Glad we got you here? Learn more about Ask as a great alternative.”

I’ve got emails out to Ask for a response (the ad agency itself has failed to
response to a similar message I sent earlier, which isn’t surprising). FYI, the
issue of a search monopoly in the UK is more serious than it sounds, which is
why I particularly dislike this campaign.

Back in 2003, BBC technology columnist Bill Thompson
asked if Google
had become so powerful that Ofsearch was needed, an office to regular search in
the way other official government offices regulate things like the post or

Perhaps the time has come to recognise this dominant search engine for what
it is – a public utility that must be regulated in the public interest.

The argument about keeping away from regulating the internet and the web
has always been that the technology is not mature enough or important enough
to merit government interference.

Surely, with more than half of UK adults using the net we have reached the
point where this argument no longer applies.

A government serious about ensuring that the net benefits society as a
whole could start by investigating Google and considering whether we should
create Ofsearch, the Office of Search Engines.

His column sparked quite a bit of buzz, especially in a country where
state-sponsored television is accepted as a good way to ensure that the public
is well served through broadcasting. Those expecting the Ask campaign might be a
rival of this call to action are to be disappointed. Then again, maybe not.
Maybe Ask’s campaign will renew calls for search regulation in the UK —
ironically, a hassle that Ask might not want.

Postscript: See Ask On Ad Campaign: Fun Way To Wake The “Sleep Searchers” for more about the Ask campaign from Ask itself.

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