Diller To Give 'Jeeves' Heave-Ho
Barry Diller, who heads IAC, told analysts and press at a Goldman Sachs conference this week that the butler, named after a character created by British author P.G. Wodehouse, is on his way out. "Jeeves will disappear, and we will probably be called Ask or Ask.com," Diller said at the conference, according to press reports. "Not that I don't like that butler."
An AskJeeves spokeswoman confirmed that the Jeeves character might be shown the door, although she said the move wasn't yet definite. "The character may be phased out as the prominent icon of the brand, although no timeline or details have been determined," she said.
The reason for the possible switch, according to the spokeswoman, is that the "Jeeves" icon harkens back to a time when the site was structured as a question-and-answer service, and the engine wasn't as powerful as it is today. "Research shows use of the character as the prominent symbol of the brand may inhibit people from recognizing that our search engine has changed, and now gives a better and unique search experience--and that it is good for all types of searches, not just questions," the spokeswoman said.
Josh Stylman, managing partner at Reprise Media and former vice president at AskJeeves, agreed that too many people associate the icon with the search engine's sub-par performance in the late 1990s. "I think it makes sense. As a former employee of AskJeeves, it was really hard to unbrand so much of the brand that was built, given that the character was so much of an iconic figure," he said. "The shame of it is--nowadays Jeeves has made a tremendous progress on the interface front, but a lot of people think that the site still doesn't work, because they associate Jeeves with the excesses of the 1990s."
Stylman said that although visitors seemed to make an emotional connection with the butler, Jeeves still probably needs to go. "Personally, I think they should publicly execute Jeeves," he said.
Matt McMahon, executive vice president for corporate development with Fathom Online, added that the move will also help Diller's IAC integrate the search engine with its other properties like Expedia.com, Match.com, and CitySearch.com. "They're trying to attract a broader audience. As they go to integrate the brand across the whole interactive core of sites, this is a great way to integrate Ask with all their other sites, without having competition with the brand," McMahon said.