The Art of Generating Buzz
By Dick Kaser
I first saw Ask.com’s most recent ad campaign in California without knowing I had seen a campaign for Ask.com.
Driving into town from the San Francisco airport, I spotted a billboard that read, “The Algorithm killed Jeeves.” Later I saw another billboard with “The Algorithm is from Jersey.” And I see on the Web, there was also one that said, “The unabomber hates the Algorithm.”
The algorithm campaign was created by advertising agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky (CPB; www.cpbgroup.com), an agency famous for viral marketing campaigns that are designed purely to generate buzz. So the campaigns are vague, sometimes controversial, and often outlandish.
The same agency produces what I personally regard as the weirdest commercials on television, the ones with the large-headed king for Burger King, including one in which the creepy character peers at a woman through her window.
The CPB billboard campaign for “The Algorithm” did indeed generate buzz, though most that I saw on the Net was not positive. At TechCrunch (www.techcrunch.com), a posting called The Algorithm Is Offensive received more than 70 comments, including one from a guy named Adam who wrote, “Their [the agency’s] modus operandi is to get people to talk about their ad campaigns no matter.”
Ask.com admits as much in its own blog post, praising the innovative work of the agency (http://blog.ask.com/2007/05/the_algorithm_i.html).
I’m not sure how the new TV ad, which Barbara Quint (bq) comments on in her Up Front with Barbara Quint column this month, relates to the billboards; the commercial was created by the same agency, and Ask.com admits that it is an extension of that campaign. One thing is clear though: From the amount of space we alone are dedicating to it this month, it’s sure to generate the much-desired word-of-mouth buzz that marketers covet.
As bq points out, the ad features a man, backed by a chorus line, singing the praises of the engine (or is that the algorithm?) that helped him find what he was looking for … “chicks with swords,” whatever that means.
I agree with bq that the smooth thigh in the background of the opening shot is provocative, but, by following up with a Web search using various engines, I get the impression that “chicks with swords” is really more of an allusion to martial arts than it is to pornography.
One blogger has even suggested that the sequel could be “dudes with nunchucks,” those stick weapons used in Kung Fu fighting.
Commenting on the commercial in Wired’s blog network, Terrance Russell wrote that he thinks the ad is about the “tongue in cheek nature of ridiculous search topics,” and therefore, it should amuse savvy searchers. It seems Ask.com has managed to offend at least one in our own bq.
A quick screening of the commercial in our editorial offices in New Jersey produced more positive comments—“Hey, who doesn’t like a production number?”—than negative ones. But after all, the algorithm is “from Jersey,” so to appreciate this piece in its entirety may require drinking our water.
In response to bq’s question about what one should do if this piece shows up in a classroom setting, I’d suggest a discussion of viral marketing and what it takes to make us drop what we are doing to ponder the meaning of a commercial and its associated brand.
Talk about an ad agency that’s earned its keep this month …