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In these days of digital goodness, I'm sure I'm not alone in noticing more and more brands using the phrase: 'search for us online...' in their ad campaigns. But this strategy has failed many, many times, so why do brands take the risk?

A quick scout around the digital media press, and obviously the obligatory question posted on Twitter, revealed many examples of brands using search in ads:

  • Orange and MTV both asked people to search for their brands rather than using a web address;
  • SonyBMG asked Dido fans to search for various taglines to promote her 'Safe trip home' album in their bizarrely unbranded posters;
  • The NHS encouraged users to type "Change for life" in to search boxes - presumably to save them having to remember a complicated NHS address;
  • The government were at it again with 'Act on CO2', another direct.gov address;
  • Posterscope used the power of search in multiple (confusing) ways with their "Oohgle" poster campaign;
  • Even channel 4 are at it with their campaign for their More4 channel - one has to assume this was mainly driven by their not owning the domain more4.com!

But as we all know, this can easily backfire on a brand if they're not completely watertight on their SEO/PPC coverage - that's why I like to call it 'Search Arrogance'. Orange demonstrated this to great effect with their 'I am' campaign: users were told to search 'I am' rather than typing in an address.

But as a quick search on 'I am' in Google will now demonstrate, the first result that comes up is 'I am bored'. Orange do come up first (and now, only) in the PPC results, but at the time even this wasn't a guarantee.

This was brought home to me in even more spectacular fashion a couple of weeks ago whilst driving in my car around my native Berkshire. The previous examples I've given were mainly driven in print or TV forms, but the Bracknell Forest Council have taken this to a new confusing high!

Their radio ad for their 'Happier and healthier life' campaign encourages users to search for 'Three by thirty', which is a tie-in with their push for people to do three lots of 30 minutes of exercise a day.

I was struck by the bravery of this at the time, so once I got home I duly typed 'Three by thirty' into Google. Results? Not good for BFC, and not a mention of them on the first page even, and no PPC spots.

How about '3 by 30'? Slightly better, but still not inspiring - 5th position for BFC. The final thing I tried, and this was evidently the search term they were hoping people would type in,  was '3 x 30'.

But as any seasoned Googler will know, the first result this will usually bring up is the mathematical sum '3 times 30', and sure enough it does. But even more embarassingly for BFC, they don't even come up first for this. A rival health-site does, which is not good.

Whilst I'm probably being a little harsh highlighting Bracknell Forest Council's error here, it does prove the point quite nicely, relying on a search term to be stable enough for you to completely eshew web addresses in your adverts is a very risky business. I dread to think of how many more calamities we're going to see before people realise this...!

Henry Elliss

Published 23 June, 2009 by Henry Elliss

Henry Elliss is a senior strategist at Good Relations and contributor at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or via his own parenting blog.

18 more posts from this author

Comments (8)

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Devon Dudgeon

I analyzed this trend back in November - here are some actual search results for "I am" across a few search engines:


over 7 years ago

Henry Elliss

Henry Elliss, Digital Marketing Director at Tamar

Thanks Devon - the search results were interesting, especially considering how different they are now!

over 7 years ago


alec East

Great points, well made and so painfully true!

A while ago I saw a trailer on youtube for the film 2012, an apocalypse movie, whose end credits said  "Google for 2012".


So I did the search and got a page of Olympics and other mayan calendar/apocalypse results (none relevant) and one PAID result talking about the end of the world. That must be it, I thought.

The paid result linked to an end-of-the-world site that offered to send me a free book. What a cool idea for an Alternate Reality Game, I thought! How clever, I thought.

Unfortunately it wasn't an ARG at all, it was just an unrelated apocalypse site and the movie promoters obviously hadn't done their homework or bothered to set-up a paid search campaign. Not just a missed opportunity but a PR fail too because the implication reflects badly on the film.

As a vaguely related aside, a search for "search" on Google.com brings Google up 4th, after Yahoo, Dogpiule and Alta Vista. Obviously they need a bit of SEO help ;)


over 7 years ago



URGH! A horrible trend that takes me back to the days of the "AOL Keyword" :(

over 7 years ago



I've nothing against BFC but it's a pretty stupid thing to do and shows the lack of brains in local government.  It's quite a good idea but the actual implementation of it shows a lack of a clue!

over 7 years ago



Glad to see someone else is calling out this fad.    When I first saw it I simply couldn't believe the stupidity of the brands that do this.  Its fair enough if you are coke saying search for "coke" but some of the more random ones just leave brands open to competitors out ranking them or the vagaries of Google.  

Of course it will probably be fun fodder for affiliates (most of whom are a damn sight better at SEO than the agencies who are currently advising their clients to not put their web address on their lavishly expensive tv slots) for a few weeks at least until they are banned for optimising for stupid marketing slogans...

How come in the history of the telephone we never had a campaign that said "just phone up directory enquiries and ask for us, you'll probably get through..."

over 7 years ago

David Iwanow

David Iwanow, SEO Product Manager at Marktplaats.nl

Great point and its very common to radio ads, that have a quick blurb at the end like an after thought "google london hotels" and lets hope that we are ranked because we have a strong seo strategy and not just by chance because currently its a low competitive term.

Great branding exercise by "Orange" with the "I am" phrase they are #2 and also the top PPC ad. 

It is a common strategy to run PPC campaigns based on competitors TV/Radio ads which can be live within minutes of hearing the new ad well before the intended target has had a chance to Google it.  This takes advantage of this search arrogance and can even be cheeky as to run ad text such as "as heard on tv" or "heard about us on the radio, learn more"

This can also work around SEO, if you have a lead that a competitor is getting ready to launch a new product or new brand and you have the resources there is no reason why you cant beat them to the top and take advantage of their marketing budget funneling more visitors to your websites.

While this can incourage a turf war, if you are better at seo or have better seo resources there is no reason why not to make the call to war, just get your seo agencies advice before selling the project to your boss as a guaranteed strategy.

You need to ensure that you have your seo agency or seo consultant involved on any projects such as this, and there needs to be a stop to brands spending millions building a brand without wanting to spend a few thousand to buy the .com version of your domain...

The Lost Press

over 7 years ago

Karl Havard

Karl Havard, Chief Strategy Officer at Econsultancy Guest Access TRAININGSmall Business Multi-user

Henry, It's a good observation and those organisations who feel brave enough to encourage people to use a specific search term need to be water tight. In the case of the Orange "I am" campaign it exposed a lack of departmental communication between the various marketing sub departments and the agency responsible for the search engine marking. By the time the TV ads and Billboard posters went live with the call to action, the digital/SEO work had not been completed. In the end it appeared there was an enormous amount of money spent to create a whole load of noise on the web about how disjointed the campaign was. A bit like this post.

I started a thread in Sept 08 here http://community.brandrepublic.com/forums/p/7402/27314.aspx#27314 and if you'd care to check the posts, I think you'll see either the agency or someone close to the campaign try to defend their actions.

I think such campaigns can work...but all the dots across all the marketing channels must be joined up.

over 7 years ago

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