RealTime IT News

MSN to Drop $300 Million on New Campaign

Microsoft's MSN service is poised to spend $300 million for advertising and marketing in its bid to unseat America Online as the top Internet service.

With the heavy spending -- the largest for any Microsoft product this year, and ever for MSN -- the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant is aiming to stir up consumer buzz around this month's launch of MSN 8, the new version of its online service.

To build anticipation for the product release, which is slated for Oct. 24, Microsoft on Monday began a "teaser" campaign starring an actor dressed as the multicolor butterfly MSN uses for its logo -- a character which will serve as the centerpiece for the advertising campaign later in the month, dubbed "Better with the Butterfly."

The logo, designed by ad agency McCann-Erickson's FutureBrand unit, first appeared in ads and on the MSN site more than two years ago. However, the new campaign for the first time will attempt to make the butterfly into a spokes-character, along the lines of the Pets.com talking sock puppet.

"The butterfly logo is very recognizable for people," said MSN Marketing Director Eric Hadley. "We thought it's a great way to bring personality to the brand as a character doing some funny things. We thought this was a good way to tell a story in an entertaining way. On the flip side, it shows you how [MSN 8] works ... it draws people into it for a little bit of entertainment value, where we haven't been able to do that in the past."

After a party in Superior, Wis. -- when the "butterfly" emerges from a cocoon -- the icon and several of its butterfly friends will drive cross-country (in a Toyota, courtesy of the automaker, an advertiser) to arrive at New York's Central Park on Oct. 24, just in time for a Microsoft-sponsored Lenny Kravitz concert and the unveiling of MSN 8 by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.

MSN also will promote the launch with outdoor ads, including a giant cocoon on a Times Square billboard, which is counting down to the Oct. 24 debut of MSN 8.

Immediately following the launch, MSN will advertise the service with a multi-media blitz, beginning with a 60-second TV spot featuring Kravitz' hit "Fly Away" and showing the emergence of the butterfly from its cocoon.

A slate of follow-up spots will focus on specific services within MSN 8. One ad, for example, showcases MSN 8's spam filter. The ad shows the live-action butterfly character stuffing junk mail back through a mail slot to an astonished postman. Microsoft's longtime San Francisco-based agency, McCann-Erickson, designed the work.

"The campaign focuses on MSN bringing a better experience," Hadley said. "People are frustrated with the Internet -- they're not getting what they want. In MSN 8 we've taken Microsoft's software heritage to give people a better experience."

The campaign also will continue with rich media online ads, designed by Seattle-based Avenue A .

The big-budget effort comes the same month as AOL Time Warner is rolling out the latest version of its Dulles, Va.-based America Online service -- AOL 8.0 -- as well as a similarly star-studded kick-off bash later this week. The company also began releasing the AOL 8.0 software to subscribers earlier this month.

But that head-to-head comparison is what MSN has long been looking for -- ever since deploying a "switcher" campaign targeting America Online users in mid-2001. Now, Microsoft said it plans to keep taking subtle shots at America Online in its ads, and to continue offering software and services to make a switch from America Online to MSN easier.

"The 'switcher' message is going to be baked into everything we do," Hadley said, adding that MSN believes America Online's users are frustrated with their provider. "It's such a great opportunity to get users from AOL ... We think it's a vital way to get new subscribers."

The launch campaign will run through the end of the year, although MSN said it is likely to reprise the character in ongoing advertising.

"We think the butterfly character has great legs," Hadley said. "We think it can carry us through a lot of the new features that we have planned, and I hope there isn't an end to it."