MSN's New Appeal to Users and Advertisers

  |  January 8, 2004   |  Comments

In its latest version, the ISP goes for user experience, but it's giving advertisers new goodies, too.

After notching 50 percent revenue growth in its advertising business in the past year, Microsoft's MSN is trying to keep it up, including new offerings for advertisers in its just-launched version of the ISP service.

The company's also working to please consumers it's been losing to broadband, rolling out new broadband-oriented features, as well as additional pop-up-blocking and spam-blocking tools.

The new advertiser offerings include new ad sizes, a simpler homepage and TV-like ads offered through MSN Video.

The new ad sizes reflect MSN's integration of the Interactive Advertising Bureau's Universal Ad Package. "We had to redesign every page on the MSN network to fit these ad units," said Karen Redetzki, an MSN product manager. There is one at the top half of the page above the fold on nearly every page throughout the network, she said.

The company also has developed TV-like :15 ads running in five-minute rotations for the new MSN Video streaming video service, which also launched Wednesday. "These fill the screen just like a TV ad and there are also links surrounding the content," Redetzki said.

The company has also redesigned its homepage to be simpler and less cluttered, in part to ensure ads stand out more, Redetzki asserted. "Navigation is easier for customers," she said. "Advertisers and consumers gave us feedback that the ads were more impactful with the new design."

In conjunction with the launch, MSN is running an ad campaign geared toward online media buyers and planners as well as Fortune 1000 executives. The creative uses the tagline "More Than an Impression" and urges marketers to "give your advertising the attention it deserves." The ads apear on trade publications including internetnews.com, the site on which Internet Advertising Report's content resides, along with MediaPost and eMarketer.

But attracting advertisers won't work unless MSN can maintain and build the size of its audience. Since rolling out MSN 8.0 last fall, the company has seen its subscriber count slide downward.

Both Microsoft's MSN and America Online, a unit of Time Warner , have been hit hard by the rapid departure of dial-up subscribers to faster broadband Internet services.

That's why the new MSN is an attempt to lure more lucrative broadband customers, and one way to do so it by sparing them the indignities of pop-ups and spam. But MSN's approach to pop-up blocking differs from that of other ISPs and portals.

"Our new pop-up blocker has a thumbnail with a mini-version of the ad that's being blocked," said Redetzki. "It allows users to customize what they want to view or don't want to view." Users can click on the thumbnail to see the ad if they choose.

"We made that choice because we think people might be interested," based on feedback from beta customers for the new MSN, Redetzki elaborated. Many customers expressed frustration at having "everything" blocked, she said.

It is also possible to allow pop-ups to be seen on a specific site, according to Redetzki.

"We had over 25,000 consumers in our beta program, the most participants ever. We collected 150,000 pieces of feedback and incorporated them to tweak our service to be better for consumers," according to Redetzki.

The ISP's spam protection has multiple levels of junk mail filtering. In this latest version, images from unknown senders are blocked, which is a blessing in more ways than one for users who need to keep the volume of email down. This feature also prevents spammers -- as well as legitimate marketers if they're not "known" -- from tracking whether emails are opened, because a transparent image file is usually used to perform this task.

The spam filter has five degrees: minimal, light, moderate, strong and exclusive. Users need only click on radio buttons opposite the various levels to select them. There's also a safe list that customers can use to designate entities that should not be blocked.

Another element is a junk button that users can hit to mark a given piece of email as junk, which helps the email filter hone in on unwanted messages in the future.

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Janis Mara

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