MSN TV Trolls for Grayhairs

At least one advertiser isn’t blindly fixated on the 18 to 49 demographic. MSN TV has launched a $5 million holiday ad campaign to lure older Americans onto the Net.

For the Mountain View, Calif.-based Microsoft subsidiary, formerly known as WebTV, those aged 50 and older aren’t the stubborn old codgers advertisers notoriously ignore. Instead, they’re an untapped market for Internet access.

“For the first time, we’re going after the older American group,” said Sam Klepper, MSN TV’s senior director of marketing. “This is a group that’s been historically intimidated by technology. MSN TV is a great alternative.”

According to a Pew Internet and American Life Project report from December 2001, just 13 percent of Internet users are over 55.

Much of the ad campaign, handled by Euro RSCG, will be devoted to three television commercials, with one-and two-minute versions, slated to run during the holiday season on 24 cable channels and networks in key markets, positioning MSN TV as an uncomplicated and cheap way to get Internet access.

Under its current pricing, Customers can log up to five hours of Internet time for $9.95 a month or $21.95 for unlimited use. The receiver and accessories, like the keyboard, cost $99.

MSN TV was known as Web TV when Microsoft acquired it for $425 million in 1997. Despite the early hype of TV and the Internet morphing, MSN TV and similar offerings like AOL TV have not found mass appeal.

Microsoft does not disclose the number of subscribers to MSN TV, but Yankee Research analyst Adi Kishore estimated this summer it had about 1 million. In effort to goose demand, MSN TV partnered with Thomson’s RCA unit in June to offer cut-rate pricing for MSN TV as a primary or secondary Internet access point.

Klepper said the company had revamped its marketing approach, which had focused on building mass-market appeal for MSN TV. Soon, however, the company recognized its graying user base, which has an average age of 55. As a bonus, Klepper said MSN TV’s older customers were also its best customers, with lower churn and higher overall satisfaction with the service.

“The most important thing is to stress the ease of use,” he said. “They have a high barrier to believe anything about technology being easy to use.”

The TV ads, along with a direct mail and radio campaign, will run in five markets, most of which have graying populations: Miami, Tampa, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Des Moines. MSN TV plans to run print ads in My Generation and Modern Maturity.

One TV spot encourages middle-aged adults to buy MSN TV for their parents. To complement this part of the effort, the MSN network has allocated MSN TV 10 million online impressions per month for the life of the campaign.

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