An Inferior Web Portal With a Great Ad Strategy

By Published on .

Client: MSN
Agency: McCann-Erickson, San Francisco
Star Rating: 3.5

A handful of ongoing TV campaigns get constant recognition for enduring quality: Nike, ESPN SportsCenter, MasterCard. It's a short list, but

The MSN butterfly on the job.
now comes another metamorphosing before our eyes. We sensed its potential when it made its debut last year. Then the little caterpillar of a campaign ...

Very entertaining idea
Oh, forget it. We were going to inflict a labored metaphor on you, but we'll skip the chrysalis stage and get right to the butterfly -- the MSN butterfly -- which is one of the most well-thought-out and entertaining ideas we've seen flutter by in a good long while. This isn't an endorsement of MSN itself, which we believe is inferior to other portals in addition to being operated by the antichrist. But the ads from McCann-Erickson, San Francisco, are that rare combination of illuminating and delightful.

So we're going to reinspect the insect.

Actually, make that insects. Unlike, say, Maytag -- which has already buried two repairmen -- or Verizon or Martha Stewart Everyday, MSN does not have to toss and turn every night worrying about its spokesbug flying too close to a flame. McCann has cast several actors of both major sexes to put on the silly butterfly costume, thereupon to play characters who are always around the MSN subscriber to make sure he's getting the most out of the Internet.

Hovers about with advice
The butterflies don't so much guard as loiter, like The Man Who Came to Dinner or Mrs. Olsen or the pesky sitcom neighbor who's just always around. The butterflies drink the subscriber's coffee, eat his potato chips and just generally hover about, offering unemotional but unassailable advice whenever the situation warrants.

In one spot, a couple is choosing names for their expected baby.

He: "How about Cassandra?"

She: "Yeah! That's pretty. I wonder what that means?"

Butterfly: "Yeah, that's Greek for prophet of doom."

He: "Catherine?"

That's to advertise MSN's search function. Other little blackouts promote MSN Messenger, the Encarta encyclopedia, shopping, video, Hotmail storage, games and so on. The tagline: "Life's better with the butterfly."

A bit smug
Even if the butterfly is a little smug. What's so funny about these spots -- apart from the goofy outfit -- is how deadpan these characters are as they confidently set the MSN subscriber straight. In one spot, which winds up to be for shopping, a husband is arguing with his wife about some fact. The butterfly says to him, "You know you're wrong, right?" In another, the butterfly notices in passing that the subscriber is flummoxed by a video-game situation. "Hit X twice and jump at the bridge," he says, then helps himself to the guy's potato chips.

If the demeanor doesn't ring a bell, think: the IT people at work.

Limitless opportunities
The real genius of the campaign lies in its limitless opportunities for new executions -- one of the principal characteristics of a bona fide Big Idea. Whatever MSN can do, the butterfly can kibbitz about it.

There are, of course, other campaigns with legs. There are even plenty with wings. But how many of them have a thorax?

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