MSN Launches Outdoor Ad Campaign

Microsoft’s MSN on Monday launched an outdoor ad campaign in New York City, aimed at getting the attention of ad agencies and networks during the crucial “upfront” season, when advertisers commit a large portion of their budgets to television spots.

The two-month campaign will use street-level media, such as panels at bus stops and on phone kiosks, around Midtown Manhattan, home to most of the top agencies, advertisers and television networks. In addition, MSN plans to continue its guerilla tradition by unleashing its butterfly models at upfront meeting locations, seeking to capture the attention of TV networks as they look to pre-sell their ad inventory for the upcoming year.

The ads take a lighthearted approach to selling online as a perfect complement to media campaigns, with three different creative executions that highlight how Internet advertising works well with other media. One creative reads, “Wow Newspaper, that outfit looks great on you!” Another is: “Hey TV, I love what you’ve done with your hair!”

“MSN is looking to challenge the way marketers are allocating their media spending by showing why online advertising complements offline media,” said Eric Hadley, director of marketing for MSN advertising sales. “This campaign in New York is a lighthearted way to increase awareness with marketers when they are thinking of and committing to ad budgets for the upcoming year.”

While the ads are meant to elicit a chuckle, their underlying message is deadly serious for the online advertising industry: Internet advertising needs to be a larger part of the media mix. In tight economic times, with marketing departments and agencies facing budget constraints, the online advertising industry has sought to grow its share at the expense of TV, which typically gobbles up more than three quarters of advertising budgets.

This theme has run through the series of case studies hawked by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). In its “cross-media optimization series,” the trade group has highlighted Dynamic Logic-backed research that shows advertisers getting more bang for their marketing buck by shifting money from TV to online. For example, in the case of a campaign for Unilever’s Dove Nutrium Bar soap, the study recommended increasing online’s share from two to 15 percent, with the money coming out of the TV budget.

This message, helped along by the low cost of online advertising, seems to be taking hold. McDonald’s recently said it would shift some of its TV spending to the Internet. The IAB and MSN hope to convince others to follow suit.

Both have been aggressive in spreading the gospel, each setting out earlier this year to proselytize to traditional advertisers and their agencies on the efficacy of online advertising. In January, MSN launched a nine-city road show of its best-practices case studies, and the IAB recently wrapped up a seven-city tour to highlight its cross-media studies.

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