Although details of the campaign, from Goldberg Moser O'Neill, San Francisco, are undisclosed, Infoseek's decision to launch a consumer branding campaign via TV is the latest in a trend of search engines taking their messages to the tube.
In fact, Yahoo!, Lycos and Excite each spend more on TV than any other medium. Granted, TV is more expensive than other media, but many of the engines are willing to spend that kind of money because of the legitimacy that TV advertising lends to a brand.
"Many brands don't really register in the consumer mind until they've been advertised on TV," said Peter Storck, an analyst with Jupiter Communications. "That's why a lot of these new media companies, including search engines, have been trying TV advertising."
"We've been thinking about TV on and off for a while now, but we haven't felt quite ready to jump in," said Beth Lenahan, Infoseek's general manager of consumer marketing. "But we believe the other engines have really helped to expand general awareness of the category, so now we can start putting some compelling messages into the marketplace."
But does TV really help the search engine cause? Or is it wasted impressions on the millions of viewers who don't surf the Net?
Yahoo!, which last year named Black Rocket, San Francisco, its agency of record, uses TV advertising primarily to reach new audiences, while its online marketing is designed to introduce new products or services to users who already are familiar with the Web.
"Our research has shown that it's difficult to unseat an audience that may already be loyal to another search engine, so we focus on acquiring new users through traditional media," said Karen Edwards, Yahoo!'s director of marketing.
Yahoo! has been running intermittent TV branding campaigns in New York and the Bay area, along with grass-roots advertising in cities where it has created a local Web presence, such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas.
"Yahoo! has been the most successful in importing its brand off the Web," said Paul Noglows, an analyst with Hambrecht & Quist. "Its TV commercials combined with its spinoff magazine Yahoo! Internet Life have been successful tools in creating a brand from the ground up."
REACHING DECISION MAKERS
In addition to strengthening brand awareness, TV advertising is also driving traffic to engine sites.
A study conducted for Yahoo! by Millward Brown International saw traffic patterns at the search engine site rise immediately following new ad campaign launches. The study also showed that the site's traffic continued to increase throughout the campaign's run.
Excite, which last month finished running a TV campaign by Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, said traffic levels to its site increased 30% the day its campaign broke last October. Set to the Jimi Hendrix tune "Are You Experienced," the estimated $10 million campaign ran in major markets including San Francisco and New York.
But while consumer acquisition is definitely a major part of a search engine's marketing initiatives, another primary target is financial analysts, ad buyers, media planners and new-media consultants.
"We needed to be in the hearts and minds of not only consumers, but-more importantly-of industry decision makers like analysts and media buyers and key advertisers," said Scott Epstein, director of marketing communications at Excite. "That's why TV is so important-you need to bring your brand into the limelight."
Executives at Lycos and Yahoo! echoed Mr. Epstein's sentiments.
TEASERS FROM LYCOS
Lycos went as far as sending thousands of specialized campaign teasers to various players throughout the new-media world, including journalists, agency personnel, marketing executives and industry consultants and analysts.
"It's not just about hitting the online user, but it's about hitting the ad buyer, the corporate brand manager and the financial analyst," said Jan Horsfall, Lycos' VP-marketing. "Those people will heavily influence our ability to perform as a company."
Lycos last month broke its first-ever TV advertising that metaphorically likened a Sherpa guide in the Himalayas to Lycos on the Web. Handled by Bozell, New York, the estimated $6 million to $10 million campaign runs through most of June in New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston.
"We decided to get on TV to create a bigger brand and help us get through the ring of fire once and for all," said Mr. Horsfall.
To measure the response to their advertising, the search engines are beginning to utilize more market research.
Yahoo! and Infoseek have recently subscribed to Mediamark Research for help in not only selling advertising on their sites, but also in helping them better understand where they should be advertising.
"Usually customers who use MRI data are taking a mass market approach," said Scott Turner, MRI's VP-regional sales. MRI has also begun tracking habits of users of about 20 sites, including Yahoo!, Infoseek, Lycos and Excite.