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Ann Summers paid searchPaid search is typically perceived as a direct response channel. It is most frequently used by firms for sales and lead generation.

There are definite brand benefits to paid search, but most advertisers do not focus on the softer brand metrics when placing Adwords campaigns. Clickthrough and conversion rates are what matter the most, as far as most people are concerned.

As such it was rather interesting to spot a seemingly random paid search ad for Ann Summers, which was anchored to a keyword search on last year’s budget. 

The adult toys retailer bid on keywords relating to ‘budget 2010’ and delivered the only paid search ad on the page, along with some cheeky ad copy: “There’s no recession in pleasure”.

The likelihood of somebody searching on “budget” and subsequently clicking on an Ann Summers ad is - you might imagine - incredibly small. The firm’s search agency, iCrossing, knew that hanging paid search ads off the back of popular news-based searches would drive a lot of awareness, with relatively few clicks.

The joy of Adwords is that you only pay when somebody clicks on an ad. Normally you try to maximise click rates on keywords that show strong intent to buy. But this campaign proves that there is a place for counter-intuitive thinking in paid search campaigns. Instead of maximising click rates iCrossing tried to minimise them. 

The tactic was all about raising brand awareness, by bidding on popular news-related search terms. All it needed to do was bid on a bunch of relevant keywords and write some cheeky, on-brand copy. Here are some more examples:

  • Chinese New Year 2011: “Year of the Rabbit”Ann Summers paid search
  • The British Airways strikes: “The planes may be grounded, but you can still join the mile high club!”
  • Snow 2010: “Stay in and stay warm with our steamy sex toys!”
  • Election 2010: “Visit Ann Summers & find out why we believe in a well hung parliament” and “We specialist in long, hard elections!”

Results

The aim was to generate awareness, rather than clicks and sales. The ads have so far been shown 1.5m times and the firm has spent around £4,500, so obviously some people have clicked through. That makes the CPM work out at £3.

In addition to the search engine coverage, the campaigns were picked up by the mainstream press. The BBC, The Guardian and The Independent all wrote about the Ann Summers paid search campaigns. They were also discussed on social media platforms and blogs, generating links for the firm.

I have no details on the ROI from the campaign, and measuring the softer brand metrics (awareness, propensity to buy, favourability, etc) is always difficult, but if you believe in the power of advertising and PR then you'd have to say that this campaign was a success. After all, up to 1.5m people will have been exposed to the ads, for the kind of money that buys you a quarter page ad in a national newspaper with a fraction of that circulation.

What do you think? Have you seen any other firms bidding on news-related terms to raise brand awareness? Is this something you might do? Do leave a comment below...

[Rabbity imagery by dannyboymalinga via Flickr, various rights reserved]

Chris Lake

Published 29 March, 2011 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (16)

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Rob Mclaughlin

Rob Mclaughlin, VP, Digital Analytics at Barclays

I love the innovative thought that iCrossing used here - moving PPC beyond being just a direct response mechanism.

My question/concern is, what do Google think? How does this fit into their pay-per-click model? Of course it is not well aligned with the aspiration of delivering highly relevant results.

Perhaps there is some interesting work to be done using these PPC exposure tactics within a multi-touch point campaign?

over 5 years ago

Peter Gould

Peter Gould, Senior PPC Analyst at Epiphany

I'm a big fan of creativity adopted in the Ann Summers PPC campaigns - they really do think outside the box, which is something they should be congratulated for.

I remember in addition to bidding on seasonal terms such as 'Year of the rabbit', they've also in the past run campaigns on topical/trending terms such as 'BA strikes' or 'snowed in' with similar cheeky advert messages which I also loved.

They are all great examples of how PPC can be used to create some exposure, and like you say in the blog Chris, for the small costs involved, they've achieved a great return when compared to other mediums.

The only danger with such campaigns is the impact on an account's Google Quality score. Undoubtedly, although these campaigns will receive some clicks, the overall click through rates will be very low. As this is a key (if not the most significant) measure in which Google determines quality score, bidding on too many of these types of keywords could have a long-term negative impact on an Adwords account by lowering quality scores across the board, even on high performing terms.

Ultimately, Google wants users to be clicking on relevant ads as it improves the user experience and more importantly, makes them money, so I can't imagine they're overly keen on these types of campaigns.

But that aside, I do love campaigns like the Ann Summers ones, but you just need to be made aware of the risks involved too.

over 5 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

Kudos to iCrossing and Ann Summers for making PPC entertaining! I think it is great that they decided to take PPC one step farther and use it as a branding campaign. That is a creative way to kill two birds with one stone and it definitely got the brand out there!

over 5 years ago

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Claire DV

Agree that it's an interesting idea. Having said that, I think it's pretty irresponsible for an adult site to be bidding on terms that non adults may be searching on. Am I the only one? Suggest Ann Summers realign their marketing efforts.

over 5 years ago

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Sb

Nice campaign. Surely this would hurt their quality score? Maybe they ran on a separate account.

over 5 years ago

Matthew Curry

Matthew Curry, Head of Ecommerce at Lovehoney

As a competitor, I'm staying well out of this....

Will just point you at the "advertising on Non-Adult terms" section of http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/7234-why-is-this-so-hard-google-facebook-and-adult-retailing

These sorts of campaigns shouldn't be lauded.

To answer your question Pete - Google take a very dim view of this approach.

The question of responsibility is an interesting one - and something I'd like to see discussed. For example, during the Year of the Rabbit campaign, hardcore pornography was within 1 click of the landing page. Minimizing clicks or not, this represents an unnacceptable chance of exposure to minors.

over 5 years ago

Peter Gould

Peter Gould, Senior PPC Analyst at Epiphany

Matthew & Claire - A good point and one that I hadn't immediately considered as I was looking at the adverts from my own shoes, and not those of a minor. When I say I'm a big fan of their campaigns, I mean more in terms of their creative, 'thinking outside of the box' approach to promote their products, just as I would for any brand trying to do something similar for a bit of exposure or publicity.

However, considering the adult nature of their site, you're right, they do have a moral responsibility to protect minors from seeing their content (or perhaps do they feel this should be Google's responsibility?).

over 5 years ago

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Hamish Batterish

Great point Claire. I'm totally in agreement with you, I think it's terribly irresponsible.

over 5 years ago

Samantha Noble

Samantha Noble, Marketing Director at Koozai

Very creative and a totally different approach to anything I have seen paid search used for in the past. However, in terms of damaging the long term account, I would have thought the Quality Score on these campaigns would have caused a big drop in performance for the rest of the account?

Also in agreement with the majority here in that bidding on non-adult terms and displaying adult content in the search results is not correct.

over 5 years ago

Steve Harvey-Franklin

Steve Harvey-Franklin, Director at Attercopia

Some very Interesting Points in the comments and I do love the creativity of the paid ads for branding as an example (without taking into account any moral stance).

But I do wonder what Google thinks it's responsibilities are when some alcoholc drinks adverts and family fireworks are banned, but a great many "adult sites" can advertise most "services" (nuff said)

On the point of branding, clearly different criteria are required to normal PPC campaigns.

over 5 years ago

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Andy Horsfall, Digital marketing manager at One to One Interactive

Not entirely convinced about this strategy. It reminds me of the much criticized Habitat Twitter 'blame it on the intern' hash-tag fiasco.

I mean isn't the whole point of marketing to present your service/product offering to a relevant audience?

Surely the ROI of a campaign would be higher if you properly segment and target the audience?

But I can see the appeal of this strategy to increase awareness, my concern would be that the response to the campaign would create negative feelings/emotions to the company/brand.

Just like with the Habitat campaign if I was searching for information about the Israeli elections and the results I got back told me about great offers for sofas, even as a marketeer I wouldn't be too pleased, let alone motivated to click the link, or have any further involvement with the company/brand in the future.

over 5 years ago

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Tobit Michael

Hi there,

I work for iCrossing and have been directly involved in this campaign.

Peter & Samantha, in terms of managing the impact of the low CTRs on the rest of the campaign's quality score, with some forethought to the structure this is actually pretty simple. While such things are difficult to measure completely accurately we've not seen any negative impact. Providing branding campaigns such as these are separated either at campaign or account level then in my experience you're pretty well covered.

Regarding the issue of responsibility and exposing graphic or inappropriate images to minors I think things are being blown somewhat out of proportion. Whilst there is of course a chance of people clicking all the way though we believe it is minimal. Firstly the number of minors searching for election, budget or BA strikes is going to be very small, possibly slightly higher for year of the rabbit. However the terms which the ads appeared were very broad and informational meaning clicking on an ad unlikely. These ads are much more about branding and I can't imagine that a child would be familiar with what a rampant rabbit is or the double entendre of a well hung parliament. The claim that these ads link directly to overtly adult content is also misplaced. Specific landing pages were used for each campaign, the year of the rabbit heading here:
http://www.annsummers.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/StaticPage_40151_YEAR-OF-THE-RABBIT_-1_10001
which in my opinion is fairly innocuous and unlikely to draw further clicks to more risqué content unless the user was aware of the brand already.

Finally I would argue that these campaigns are no more likely to put adult content in front of minors than broad matching on the term "rabbit" and "rabbits" as some of our outraged competitors currently are :)

http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=rabbits

over 5 years ago

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Matt Chandler

On a related subject, the issue of using PPC to bid on trademark names was clairified last week with the news of http://tinyurl.com/697bbyf

over 5 years ago

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Rob Payne

Doing what others are not doing is what puts iCrossing out in front of others. Hats off to iCrossing. Another source of brand building often left unnoticed is to use a high quality source of second tier traffic for top of the funnel keywords with high volume, but very low cost (one penny to a nickel). Great ROI!

over 5 years ago

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Matt Bone

Cute idea but definitely for risque brands only. As Andy pointed out above, it's only a hair's breadth away from the Habitat and Kenneth Cole hashtag faux pas

over 5 years ago

Matthew Curry

Matthew Curry, Head of Ecommerce at Lovehoney

We walk a fine line, an incredibly fine line, and as I've said before, folks are chomping at the bit to label us pornographers.

it's smacks a lot of "Won't someone, please, think of the children!" I know, but if folks on econsultancy know the intricacies of PPC adwords still have "concerned moral face" when reading this - imagine if a national newspaper suddenly decided that it wasn't "cheeky" and ran a story entitled " Mummy, what's a vibrator?" - with some sullen looking child and concerned parent, because the kiddy looked up iPad news during the Ann Summers ppc campaign when that was launched, or were asked to research about the election. it's just incredibly dodgy territory, and Newspaper journalists won't give a fig about minimising clickthrough or brand recognition.

AS probably have a lot more to lose on this than any of their competitors, thanks for the heads up on rabbits - as I've said offline, it's completely not our policy to bid on non-adult generics, I only have to presume that the ad itself was flagged as adult, which is why I didn't spot it (And why it wasn't translating into sales!)

in this industry, reputations can be tarnished incredibly quickly. I know they probably don't feel like it right now, and consider me a pain in the arse, but the Ann Summers folks are lucky I flagged the easily viewed Hardcore DVD covers when I did, before some journalist looking to write a hatchet job did,

over 5 years ago

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