'Road Rules' Returns, With Ask.com in Tow

Reality Show's Contestants Will Use Search Engine to Complete Challenges

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NEW YORK -- When "Road Rules" returned to MTV's late-night lineup after a nearly three–year absence last month, viewers were being reintroduced to more than one familiar brand of the late '90s. Ask.com, having ditched its unofficial mascot Jeeves last year, has been integrated into the show's challenges by serving as the go-to search engine for all the contestants' clues and directions.
The challenge for the team of marketers at Optimum Entertainment, OMD's branded-entertainment branch, was getting visitors to the site to continue using Ask.com for search purposes other than those related to the show.







The partnership is the latest in Ask.com's increased efforts to distance itself from its initial question-based model and establish itself as a major search engine on par with Google or Microsoft. Serin Silva, director-marketing at Ask.com, said as the search engine's competitors reach their saturation points in the consumer's eye, networks have been approaching Ask.com looking for a new web partner to feature in programming.





Male-targeted Tuesday nights

NBC was the first to use Ask.com for the network's "Treasure Hunters" game show last year. MTV then stepped in to bring the brand to its male-targeted Tuesday night lineup on the resurrected "Road Rules" -- as well as a dedicated site for the show's "You in the Crew" sweepstakes, which allows users to play along with the show's contestants.





The challenge for the team of marketers at Optimum Entertainment, OMD's branded-entertainment branch, then, was getting visitors to the site to continue using Ask.com for search purposes other than those related to the almanac-esque trivia for the show.





"Once you have an experience searching on Ask, it's better than other search engines," said Guy McCarter, director of Optimum. "What Ask has done is identified different demographic and psychographic groups and segmented them out. One is a younger, tech-savvy consumer who is an MTV viewer kind of broadly, and then specific to the search mission, it speaks to people who have an ability to watch a television show and go online simultaneously."





Habit forming

Ms. Silva added, "Even though it's gone away and they're bringing it back, it's a known entity. MTV is a great brand association for Ask, and partnering with them is less about demographics and more about habits. The folks watching the show are going online and highly desirable in terms of people we want to affect."





The brand-friendly folks at MTV have a host of other advertisers on hand for its "testosterone Tuesdays" -- including Cingular, Gatorade, Under Armor and the U.S. Marines -- but having Ask.com on board was the real key to helping the network launch its latest chapter in "Reality 2.0," so dubbed by Tim Rosta, senior VP-integrated marketing, MTV.





"They're certainly in a place we love to play in, which is the idea of search," Mr. Rosta said. "The other advertisers in the show aren't quite as dimensionalized as Ask -- even Cingular's products that are integrated in the show are pretty straightforward. We love it when have an interactive partner like Ask to work with that makes sense and creates a destination. ... And online remains a very big megaphone to get across the extensions of our programming."





Joint comebacks

And with both "Road Rules" and Ask.com making comebacks this year, it's a win-win for the marketers behind the two.





"A number of our partners are really bringing heat to the shows and do this by religious participation in whatever they're involved with," Mr. Rosta said. "Also, the nature of the show is good, clean fun and a very advertiser-friendly series for us. Everybody wants to be involved when you've got individual drama between cast members and physical challenges."
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