New MSN Communications Tools Bring New Ad Opportunities

Microsoft’s MSN is expected today to unveil new advertiser opportunities with the formal launch of MSN Spaces and an update to MSN Messenger. Major players such as Volvo, Coca-Cola, and adidas are among the first to sample the new offerings.

Volvo Cars of North America has taken the plunge to become the first advertiser on MSN Spaces, creating a “What’s Your Story?” campaign to reinforce its “Volvo for life” brand campaign. MSN editors will search user-generated content to find the best stories and highlight them on a Volvo-branded page at whatsyourstory.msn.com. Volvo ads will also appear on the MSN Spaces home page, in text links with graphics at the top of users’ personal Spaces, and in sponsored MSN Spaces with editorial content from MSN Autos and MSN Money.

“Marketers have this amazing opportunity to connect to consumers in new ways. There are massive challenges, and the rules change,” said Gayle Troberman, director of the Branded Entertainment and Experiences Team at MSN. “If consumers can invite you into their everyday experience and invite their friends to join them, there’s no more powerful experience.”

Spaces has been available in beta since December, but the blogging/photo-sharing/social networking service is now launching in 30 markets worldwide.

MSN Messenger’s product update, to 7.0, enables advertisers to create “theme packs.” Users can download them to add branded backgrounds, emoticons, dynamic display pictures, and “Winks” to MSN Messenger. The offering is not unlike Yahoo’s IMVironments and AOL’s Expressions. Sprite and adidas will offer the first two theme packs for Messenger.

The Sprite theme pack will extend the Miles Thirst character from “The Scenario,” which launched on MSN Music last month. Because it’s a frequent purchase item, Sprite wants to keep its brand in front of consumers every day in a relevant way, Troberman said.

“It’s a way to reach out, grab attention, and make the brand a part of everyday life,” she said. “Users who download the theme packs become advocates of the brand, so you’re not just buying impressions.”

Mediavest’s Coca-Cola City planned the media strategy for the Sprite campaign. According to Scott Witt, group director, digital, the opportunity to get in front of Sprite’s target teen audience in a nontraditional way was an important reason for choosing to work with MSN.

“We take a very conceptual approach to media placement. We’re idea-centric instead of efficiency-centric or volume-centric,” Witt said. “It’s not about tonnage. We don’t have an awareness problem, we have an engagement problem. We want to be the arbiters of great experiences.”

Adidas’ theme pack will center around its newly launched adidas_1, a $250, high-tech running shoe with a built-in microprocessor to automatically adjust cushioning levels. The adidas theme pack will be available in eight markets, including the U.S., the U.K., Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Sweden.

Adidas ads will also be prominently featured on the new MSN Today site, and rich-media adidas ads will be integrated into customers’ MSN Messenger games experience.

Another new ad opportunity is a rich motion preroll ad in the new MSN Video Conversation service. MSN Video Conversation is a PC-to-PC video and voice conversation service available free to Messenger users. Video ads will be shown in the 7 to 10 seconds before a connection is initiated.

Advertisers can also place a text ad in Messenger conversation windows and sponsor tabs in Messenger linking to other parts of the MSN Network. MSN will continue to offer advertisers half-banner ads in the Messenger client.

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