Cartoon Butler Jeeves Gets Sacked

1999/7/4 ASK JEEVES logo, from Ask.com web site, graphic element on white AP

The genteel butler that has been Ask Jeeves Inc.'s face for nearly a decade is getting ousted in a corporate takeover.

Jeeves, the slightly chubby and balding English butler, isn't the kind of image that e-commerce conglomerate InterActiveCorp wants representing the Ask Jeeves search engine, according to IAC Chairman Barry Diller. His New York-based company bought Ask Jeeves for $2.3 billion in July.

Speaking at a Goldman Sachs investor conference last week, Diller announced that his company intends to drop Jeeves as a mascot and shorten the search site's name to Ask or Ask.com.

"Not that I don't like that fat butler," Diller said, according to a transcript provided by Thomson Financial.

After Diller's speech, Oakland, Calif.-based Ask Jeeves issued a statement that said that no decision has been reached on what the company's new name will be or when the change will occur.

Ask Jeeves spent more than $100 million building its brand around the cartoon butler during the dot-com boom. The marketing blitz paid for a 70-foot Jeeves balloon that floated over Macy's Thanksgiving Day and 15 million labels of the grinning mascot that were affixed to apples sold in 8,000 supermarkets.

But the butler (modeled after a character in P.G. Wodehouse novels) started to become a liability after Ask Jeeves upgraded its search technology to become more competitive with industry leaders Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc.

Company research indicated that consumers still associated the butler with the early versions of the Ask Jeeves search engine, which was designed to field inquiries in the form of direct questions— a technology that delivered inconsistent results.

"This research shows use of the character as the prominent symbol of the brand may inhibit people from recognizing that our search engine has changed," the company said in a statement.

Last year, Ask Jeeves tried to spruce up the butler, introducing a trimmer and more sophisticated-looking Jeeves.

Diller hopes to turn the search engine into the mortar binding together a disparate collection of Web sites owned by IAC and Expedia Inc., which recently spun off into a separate company.
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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