Cloning, MSN Style

Microsoft officials have set a launch date for their latest iteration of MSN, aimed at taking the Internet experience to the “next level.”

For now, the MSN marketing machine is more interested in getting the word out about its newest catch-phrase describing MSN 8 than providing details of its service, which launches Oct. 24.

Microsoft will rely on big budgets and big names to promote the upcoming version of its Internet service — trotting out both its largest-ever ad campaign and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates as the opening salvo in Redmond’s latest, deep-pocketed bid to topple archrival America Online.

Gates, expected to announce the release of MSN 8 at an Oct. 24 event in New York’s Central Park, will touch off the company’s new promotional effort, which aims to paint itself as a higher caliber of online service.

To hammer the point home, spending on advertising accompanying the launch will overshadow the $150 million dropped by the portal during last year’s campaign for MSN 7.

Designed by San Francisco-based agency of record McCann-Erickson, the new MSN 8 campaign will reprise earlier ads’ prominent use of the service’s ubiquitous, two-year-old butterfly logo. In keeping with previous releases, the campaign also will bear a new tagline, as the ISP adopts “Better with the Butterfly” in lieu of “More Useful Everyday.” (In previous years’ campaigns, MSN flirted with mottos including “The Everyday Web” and “Make It Your Home.”)

“It’s definitely bigger” than the MSN 7 launch, said Parul Shah, Microsoft’s product manager for the service. “It’s important that consumers know that when they see the butterfly, they recognize that it’s a service that’s a better online experience … than with competitors.”

It’s clear by the upgrade that Microsoft is gearing for customers looking at an all-in-one family-style Internet experience that frees them from worry of the detritus found at adult Web sites and in the rising amount of spam found in email boxes.

Parental controls keep tabs on children’s surfing habits, while email filters that “learn” from a user’s habits are aimed at building a safer and hassle-free Internet community. The best part of MSN 8 is the pricing, which remains at $21.95 a month for subscribers; most ISPs tack on an additional fee for such services.

It’s all part of the ISPs attempts to build an online community families want to visit, something that sounds oddly familiar to the more than 35 million AOL customers around the world.

Officials insist they aren’t trying to clone its service to entice AOL customers away, although many of the communications and family services to be found in MSN 8 bear striking similarities. MSN even has a tool to conveniently migrate users from AOL.

Coincidence?

“We’re not trying to clone AOL with MSN,” Shah maintained. “AOL has been there and has been a good product for new Internet users, (but) people have been on the Internet now for several years and they’re ready to take it to the next level; now, they’re looking for more than just an easy service, they’re looking for a useful service.”

MSN 8 will also feature a distinctly AOL service — MSN 8 on top of a subscriber’s existing ISP service. Shah points out the price of the service, $9.95 a month or $79.95 per year, is much better than AOL’s service, which runs $14.95.

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