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!”


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]