Last year, Microsoft's Live Search began adding large images to the homepage with various "hotspots" that, when clicked on, directed visitors to various searches. Now, Ask.com seems to be taking that approach, with a twist.
An advertising twist.
Today, at Ask.com is a large promotional image of the upcoming film, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. If you mouseover each character or actor, a name will pop up and you can click on it and be taken to a search.
For example, mouse over Amy Adams and her character "Amelia Earhart" will pop up. Click on it and be taken to the Ask.com results for "Amelia Earhart."
Ben Stiller is the star of the movie but his character is a fictional security guard. So, his pop up shows his character's name, "Larry Daley" but the search is for "Ben Stiller" instead.
One weird thing is that a couple of the names actually pop up out of the image frame. For such an advertising effort, that should be unacceptable.
Of course, cynics will criticize this move by Ask.com, deeming it cheesy or desperate. But it really isn't all that different from ads seen on non-search engines. Additionally, it's very similar to more traditional ad methods such as billboards (hello, Times Square!) or large ads in newspapers. We only have to look at the criticized yet successful Cashback program, again by Microsoft's Live Search, to know that the cynics aren't always right.
Instead, I think Ask.com might be on to something here. I often see Ask.com advertising on cable television's Discovery Channel, for example. It would be smart of them to engage in some sort of ad exchange where people driven to search Ask via a cable ad are then greeted with this new type of imaging featuring Discovery channel shows.
Search is overdue for some true innovation in advertising and it's good to see Ask (and Microsoft) attempting it.
That's my take. What's yours? Comments below.