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Re-branding means that Jeeves will be searching for a new job.

Byline: CHRIS TOMLINSON

Last week the search engine company Ask revealed its shocking plan to give their loyal butler Jeeves the boot.

According to Ask Jeeves' new owner, e-commerce conglomerate Inter Active Corp, a balding, slightly fat English butler is not a good image for the Ask brand, and they have shown Jeeves the door.

As a balding, slightly fat Englishman myself, I feel he has been badly treated after ten years of service. Close friends say Jeeves is very despondent and claim there is little chance of re-employment since P G Woodhouse and most of his readers are now dead.

Connie, the AOL genie, who got axed by her employer back in 2003 after many years of service, has been in touch. She said he had to accept that it is the marketing executives alone that giveth life and taketh it away.

Ask Jeeves spent more than $100 million building its brand around the cartoon butler during the dot-com boom. He even went on a diet and gained a tan last year inan attempt make the brand more youthful.

IAC bought Ask Jeeves Inc for $1.85 billion in stock. The single largest asset it acquired must have been the globally recognised online brand name Ask Jeeves, with its iconic butler lending values of trust and service to the brand.

To buy Ask Jeeves and fire the butler seems crazy.

Compared to other search engines, like Google, Yahoo, NSM and AOL, Ask is in the minor league. Depending on who you ask it is ranked the fifth most popular search engine.

But take Jeeves out of Ask Jeeves, and what have you got? A second division search engine that will get mistaken for a pizza restaurant chain?

According to IAC, Jeeves was holding them back. Their new search technology was every bit as powerful and sophisticated as Google's, yet Jeeves was giving it a musty mothball smell.

In its heyday, Ask Jeeves gained popularity because it allowed you type in a simple question in grammatically correct English. This marketing gimmick turned into a liability as English is not very precise or logical, and makes a poor database querying language.

Net users have become more sophisticated and adept at using keywords and Boolean operators to construct more effective queries. No one is confused and frightened anymore, or feels the need to have a nice butler metaphor to help them find things.

Ask Jeeves will therefore be re-branding as Ask.com and anew logo and marketing campaign will soon follow. Jeeves gets to write his memoirs about the days when gentlemen used the net.

But re-branding is always a risky business. Perhaps some of the top executives at Ask may end up asking Jeeves one last question: "Where is the dole office?" and he will no doubt be delighted to answer.

Chris is managing director of internet consultancy WebXpress. This and other unedited articles can be found at www.webxpress.com. Email chris@webxpress.com
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 4, 2005
Words:494
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