Bill Gates Shills for MSN

None other than Microsoft Corp.’s own Bill Gates took to Europe this week, in an effort to sell the MSN portal and related services to advertisers and agencies — amid the continued stagnation of the online advertising market.

Speaking in London on Thursday to an audience of chief executives, marketing directors and media planners, the Microsoft chairman and chief software architect gave his prediction of MSN’s role during the next several years — what he termed the “Digital Decade,” referring to consumers’ Web-intensive lifestyles.

Gates’s presentation, “the Future of Digital Marketing,” described MSN as being central to upcoming advances, saying it would be the focus of the company’s .NET initiative and would be interconnected with products like Windows XP. The Xbox gaming console, too, was categorized as a potential way for consumers to access online media.

Yet before consumers can access a pervasive Internet experience — and the flexible and powerful advertising that would go with it — Gates warned that broadband access would have to be rolled out widely, and affordably to end users.

“What it’s going to take is time, it’s going to take breakthrough devices that there’s fantastic progress on, fantastic software … and it’s also going to take broadband,” Gates said. “There’s a lot of things that you wouldn’t think of using the Internet for. [With broadband], you’d use it quite extensively.”

“At the moment we are just scratching the surface,” he added. “Microsoft’s role is to build the software to drive adoption forward.”

MSN advertisers General Motors, Coca-Cola, and Egg PLC also demonstrated some of their online marketing projects.

MSN UK director Geoff Sutton also told the attendees that the Internet had become a true mass medium in the eyes of marketers, adding that UK companies typically spend #90.2 million on the medium, more than on cinema ads. He also cited the UK’s Interactive Advertising Bureau’s findings that online advertising spending rose 42 percent during the first half of 2001.

“It’s no longer an afterthought for half a percent of the budget,” he said. “Real business results are being achieved online right now.”

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