NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Can Microsoft market its way out of the search basement? Probably not, but it's going to try, entrusting roster agency JWT to craft a campaign for its new search engine, alternately dubbed Kumo or Project Kiev or Live Search, depending on who's talking about it.
Several screenshots of the interface have been circulating in the blogosphere, and an internal memo about the changes from Microsoft search chief Satya Nadella was posted by AllThingsD. The service is being tested and is expected to make its debut in the summer.
Industry executives expect JWT, part of WPP, to unveil an estimated $80 million to $100 million push for the new search engine in June, with online, TV, print and radio executions. Microsoft spent $361 million on U.S. measured media in 2008, the bulk of it devoted to brand advertising and smaller chunks to other Microsoft brands such as Xbox and MSN, according to TNS Media Intelligence data.
More work to JWT, Crispin
For years, Microsoft housed the bulk of its advertising budget at Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann in San Francisco, but in the past 12 months, the software giant has been handing more and more work, existing as well as new assignments, to JWT and hotshop Crispin Porter & Bogusky.
Crispin last February was selected to take on a massive consumer ad campaign to boost Microsoft's cool factor, which in its latest iteration touts PCs' value vs. rival Apple's more expensive Macs. Crispin was also tapped to handle marketing for Microsoft's Zune digital player, work previously done by McCann.
Meanwhile, JWT has fast become the other favorite on Microsoft's roster. It snagged from McCann creative duties for the People Ready suite of business software last summer (the resulting campaign starred a number of blue-chip chief marketers) and now the "Kumo" assignment.
According to one person close the situation, the forthcoming campaign will be careful to not position "Kumo" as a competitor to Yahoo or Google and instead cast it as a reimagined search engine that ups the game by yielding fewer but more-focused results. The proposed strategy is probably a good -- if not the only -- way to go.
Many search-industry watchers say the only way to challenge Google, the current category leader, will be to present something markedly different. The thing is, at first glance, screenshots of "Kumo" don't look too different from the current search format used by most major search engines: organic search results in the main part of the page, with sponsored links across the top and the right side. The new Microsoft interface does appear to have some interesting filtering features, both in the organic-results area and along the left side of the page, to help searchers drill down into more specific topics.
An uphill battle
Regardless, the marketing will be an uphill battle. Microsoft's search engine has languished in third place and has seen its share of the category drop in the past year. Its declined almost 15% from February 2008 to February 2009, when it captured 8.2% of all consumer searches. During the same period, Google grew its share 7% to 63.3%, and Yahoo was up 5% to 20.6% share, according to ComScore.
The losses in share occurred despite Microsoft's trying some interesting tactics intended to goose usage. Last year, for example, it launched Live Search CashBack, which essentially offered consumers cash discounts when they bought products they had searched for using Live Search.
Heavy marketing hasn't exactly been a winning formula for other search engines. IAC-owned Ask.com, for example, asked Crispin for a major ad campaign that launched in May 2007 and focused on Ask.com's algorithm. But Ask.com's share declined two-tenths of a percentage point to 4.5% from July 2007 to July 2008, according to ComScore.
Ask.com, which now works with New York agency Hanft Raboy & Partners, has slashed its marketing budget in the past few years. It was down to $43 million in domestic measured media in 2008, from $62 million in 2007 and $70 million in 2007, according to TNS.
Most folks today believe Microsoft's best hope for significantly growing share is to buy Yahoo, as it tried to do for the better part of 2008. And while Yahoo avoided an outright takeover, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer continues to be public about his openness to do a search deal with the portal. So far new Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz has given no indication that she is interested in such a deal.