After sprucing up Ask.com earlier last summer, parent company IAC began spending $100 million this year on marketing to raise awareness of the Ask brand. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been seeing a lot of Ask.com ads on TV lately. (And I pretty much only watch TiVo, yet they are so ubiquitous that they still catch my eye as I fast-forward through the commercials). So how is that ad campaign doing?
Taking a look at IAC’s earnings today, it is not clear whether or not the expensive ad campaign will even pay for itself. Out of IAC’s $1.5 billion in total quarterly revenue, its media and advertising businesses (of which Ask.com is a part, along with CitySearch and Evite) accounted for only $190 million. While those revenues were up 40 percent from last year, the search portion of that saw a greater contribution from the Ask network (search results it powers on other sites) than from Ask.com itself. In other words, IAC’s media and advertising businesses saw a $54 million bump in revenues last quarter. Not all of that was due to Ask, and of the part that was, more than half came from traffic outside of Ask.com. The point of the ads, of course, is to drive traffic to Ask’s main site.
At least Ask is not losing market share. According to comScore, the search market share of Ask’s network as a whole nudged up 0.2 percent in September versus August to 4.7 percent (compared to 57 percent market share for Google, 23.7 percent for Yahoo, and 10.3 percent for Microsoft). Both Google and Yahoo still gained more share in September than Ask.com, although it did take some share away from Microsoft. And if you look on Compete.com, traffic to Ask.com itself does look to be picking up.
So it could just be too early to tell whether the TV ads are driving enough traffic to Ask.com to be worthwhile. But if they don’t show up more significantly in the numbers next quarter, those ads will be seen as a boondoggle. They are entertaining, though.
Erick Schonfeld is editor-at-large for Business 2.0 where he contributes to the editorial development of the magazine, writes feature stories, runs the daily Business 2.0 blog, and pens Future Boy, a biweekly online column, from New York.
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