To find the answers, people are directed to Ask Jeeves' site, ask.com, where Web pages are served in response to queries.
Breaking in New York, followed by Los Angeles and San Francisco, the electronic billboard campaign was created by Euro RSCG DSW Partners, Salt Lake City, and is part of a $40 million marketing and public relations campaign for 2000, roughly double what Ask Jeeves spent last year.
While the questions aren't real-time off the Ask Jeeves site, said VP-Marketing David Hellier, they are culled from roughly 3 million queries it receives every day and then packaged for the various billboards -- reflecting the region in which they appear.
For example, two weeks before the Academy Awards, the Los Angeles billboard will feature questions about the show. The strategy is part of an ongoing campaign to match creative with relevant media, Mr. Hellier said.
Ask Jeeves launched its first advertising with a spot-market TV, radio and print campaign last May. In the fall, it turned its focus to print ads in 45 publications, each with questions pertaining to that particular magazine. A People ad, for example, had a question inquiring about the latest gossip on Brad Pitt (AA, Nov. 1).
The approach is meant to reinforce that using Ask Jeeves is "very relevant to every situation or need you have," Mr. Hellier said.
READ THE LABEL
The electronic billboards are part of Ask Jeeves' so-called wild-media campaign, focusing on alternative outlets. For instance, in a November promotion, it labeled 15 million California apples with Ask Jeeves stickers touting questions about apples, such as how to bake an apple pie.
Mr. Hellier said the fruit promotion -- done in conjunction with Fruit Label Co. -- will expand significantly; Ask Jeeves will roll out labels for oranges in February and March and a promotion with bananas during April and May.
Also this year, Ask Jeeves plans more "Butler Blasts" in which it deploys 10 to 20 people dressed like its icon, the butler Jeeves, in a city to help people with their bags or crossing the street.
In addition, he said, "We'll be using other outdoor vehicles" for its campaign, but declined to give details.
Ask Jeeves this year also plans cable TV spots, print and online ads. USWeb/CKS, San Francisco, handles its online media planning; Ask Jeeves creates online ads in-house.
Ask Jeeves also extends its brand through agreements with Dell Computer Corp., Martha-stewart.com and Microsoft Corp., which license the Ask Jeeves technology to help consumers get their answers questions online.
While Ask Jeeves hangs its brand around its technology that can interpret questions and serve appropriate Web pages, several search-engine rivals including AltaVista Co. have this natural-language capability. By defining itself broadly as an information portal, Ask Jeeves faces stiff competition from other search and directory portals, ranging from Yahoo! and LookSmart to Excite@Home and Go.com.
Ask Jeeves in January drew a unique audience of 5.48 million people. That gave it a ranking of 12th among portals/search engines, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.