MSN Expands Anti-AOL Campaign

Continuing its efforts to woo the subscribers of rival America Online, Microsoft Corp’s MSN portal is upping the ante with a new $10 million ad campaign and a technology partnership.

MSN first launched campaigns targeted at subscribers of the AOL Time Warner Internet service in May 2001. Since then, the Redmond, Wash. portal has reprised its efforts several times, with new creative and new incentives.

But the new effort, beginning this week, incorporates for the first time new technology designed to make the switch from AOL easier.

Through an alliance with New York-based startup Esaya, MSN will offer departing AOL users a series of services designed to make the transition “incredibly easy,” said MSN program manager Lisa Gurry.

Esaya’s TrueSwitch services move America Online users’ mailboxes, address books, and calendar over to MSN. The service also gives users 30 days of automatic email forwarding to their new MSN account, and can send automatic emails to users’ address books, so that contacts are informed of their new address. Additionally, MSN said it would cancel users’ AOL account on their behalf.

Obviously, such efforts are intended to thwart efforts by America Online to retain its users. With slowing subscriber growth rates, Dulles, Va.-based America Online is keen to hang onto users, typically offering free months of the service to users that ask for cancellation. But by handling the switchover for users, Esaya’s service forestalls efforts by AOL to cut such deals — though MSN said it sees the TrueSwitch service as more of a helpful tool for users.

“We’re making it easier for people to switch to MSN for the first time by presenting solutions to leading barriers to people changing ISPs in the past,” Gurry said.

The introduction of the services is to be accompanied by a $10 million print and online advertising and direct mail campaign. MSN tapped agencies McCann-Erickson San Francisco and Avenue A for the effort.

The three-month campaign, which continues the format and design of the site’s previous “switcher” campaigns, points to MSN’s fast dialup speeds, reliable connection, software like MSN Explorer (a customized version of Microsoft Internet Explorer) and popular services like MSN Hotmail and MSN Messenger.

Copy in the print pieces reads: “With new hassle-free switching tools, leaving AOL is, well, hassle-free … In just a few short steps, TrueSwitch moves your AOL Address Book, notifies your contacts of your new address, and even forwards your email. And MSN gives you fast logins, faster surfing, and reliable service. With Microsoft technology, MSN is more useful and a great alternative to AOL. So good-bye AOL and good-bye hassles.”

The campaign also extends the $50 “cash back” program MSN implemented in March. The deal, which offers a $50 check to AOL members who switch to MSN and stay with the company for three months, will now be good through June.

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