Microsoft’s MSN is expected to take the wraps off its algorithmic search product Tuesday. It hopes to jumpstart adoption with its biggest online campaign ever, which will be accompanied by TV, print and outdoor placements in 25 countries.
Though MSN wouldn’t divulge how much it will spend on the campaign, the company says its outlay will surpass what it spent on the launches of MSN 8 and MSN 9. Spending on MSN 8 was reported to be in the neighborhood of $300 million.
“It’s the biggest global campaign since the introduction of the MSN butterfly,” said Chris Cocks, director of global campaigns for MSN.
The company hopes to propel itself higher among search players. Currently, it commands 16 percent of search share, as compared with Yahoo’s 32 percent and Google’s 35 percent, according to comScore. Before today’s launch, the company used Yahoo’s technology to power its algorithmic search.
“Microsoft, and MSN specifically, is really just getting into the game at this point,” said Jane Boulware, corporate VP of MSN global marketing. “We feel like we’ve got a very, very strong offering and we’re not shy about letting the world know.”
Possibly the biggest element in the marketing campaign is a redesign of the MSN.com home page, which gives more prominence to the search box. The search box appears in ads across all media, as well, as it did in Yahoo’s campaign to promote its search service.
“We’ve taken the search bar and made it the star of the home page and the overall campaign,” said Cocks. “Whenever we ask a question in the campaign, the search bar comes to life.”
Agency of record McCann-Erickson was the main force behind the campaign. Avenue A/Razorfish handled online media buying. Austin-based T3 helped with online creative. 42 Entertainment, the guerilla marketing agency behind the online promotion for Steven Spielberg’s “AI”, is doing grassroots and viral marketing work, but MSN wouldn’t divulge specifics.
An early version of a TV spot shows a box pulsating and changing shapes — from a gorilla, to an astronaut, to a heart, to an elephant, etc., with each change more rapid than the previous one — while an audio montage of news clips plays in the background. Then, it becomes clear the box is the centerpiece, and the “search” button appears. An announcer says, “There’s a new way to search,” and the MSN butterfly flies out of the search box. The tagline is, “Introducing the new, more precise, more powerful MSN search.” A text call to action sends viewers to MSN.com.
While MSN didn’t give ClickZ News a peek at online creative, the company said it would be similar in theme and look to the television spots. Formats employed include streaming video, Flash, and standard banners.
The online media plan includes intense exposure across the MSN network, as well as buys on sites inclucing CNET, Weather.com, USAToday.com and CBSSportsline.com.
“We tried to select sites where there’s a high degree of usage by MSN users,” said Cocks, explaining that the campaign was initially aimed at reaching those who already used MSN.
TV buys were chosen with Internet usage in mind, as well.
“We built it around the concept of searchable events,” said Cocks. “We want to be in places where people are both watching TV and using the Internet at the same time.”
To that end, MSN chose to advertise on national cable, and then picked local DMAs with a high concentration of searchers. In those markets the company made local buys on broadcasts of high-profile events including the Super Bowl, the Grammy Awards, the Academy Awards, and the NCAA Championships.
TV and online will be the main drivers of the campaign in the U.S., but print and outdoor ads will appear in other markets.
The main thrust of the campaign will continue for eight weeks, when MSN aims for 90 percent reach online and offline, and expects to deliver more than 40 impressions to each target.
“Right now we have programmed out the first eight weeks and we’ll be evaluating the sustaining portions of the campaign,” said Cocks, adding the company plans to keep the effort going throughout the year.