Bits & Bytes for May 19, 2004

MSN Butterflies Descend on the Upfront

For the second year running, Microsoft’s MSN crashed the television upfront with a mob of human butterflies, tasked with spreading the gospel of online advertising among the unconverted.

Beginning on Monday, people costumed in wings and antennae handed out flyers to the hordes of media buyers attending network parties at this year’s TV upfront, which is expected to set records despite the shift of young men away from television and the unprecedented strength of online media this year.

The flyers being handed out by MSN’s guerilla butterflies seek to persuade advertisers to diversify their budgets.

“Friendly reminder: Consumers view multiple screens. Don’t spend it all in one place. An integrated marketing plan isn’t integrated without advertising online,” they say.

Copy on the back of the flyer enumerates the results of an MSN sponsored advertising accountability study, which found a 7.5 to 10 percent lift in offline sales and a five to seven percent increase in key brand metrics.

Adult Content Labeling Requirement Goes Into Effect

The Federal Trade Commission-established standards for labeling of sexually explicit email messages went into effect Wednesday.

The new rules, mandated under the CAN-SPAM Act, require the label “SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT” in the email’s subject line. They also call for an electronic “plain brown wrapper” so that recipients aren’t inadvertently exposed to sexually oriented content.

Senders who fail to comply with the rule face civil lawsuits as well as criminal penalties, including imprisonment and fines of up to $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for organizations.

Geico Takes Search’s Big Two to Court

Insurance giant Geico filed suit against Google and Yahoo-owned Overture, alleging trademark infringement and dilution.

The company is seeking an injunction preventing the search companies from allowing advertisers to bid on its trademarked terms “Geico” and “Geico Direct.” The insurer is also seeking payment for brand dilution.

“The Geico marks are unique, inherently distinctive and famous designations of the source of Geico’s auto insurance services,” wrote Geico in its complaint. It goes on to say the defendants’ sale of its trademarks as keywords has resulted in confusion for consumers who were attempting to contact the company or learn about its insurance rates.

Defending itself from trademark infringement has become a regular activity for Google, which has faced numerous and increasing legal challenges in the U.S. and overseas. Earlier this year it was sued by American Blind and Wallpaper Factory for alleged infringement on that company’s trademark. Since then, further suits and complaints have been filed by French insurance firm AXA and German meta search company metaspinner. Google shifted its trademark policy in April, saying it would allow U.S. and Canadian advertisers to use others’ trademarks as keywords.

While Google has been the target of many such lawsuits, Overture has so far escaped much of the legal wrangling over trademarks due to the more stringent limits it places on advertisers.

Neither Overture nor Google responded to requests for comment by press time.

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