Bing Buzz Had Users Searching for Site That Didn't Exist Yet

Was Microsoft Right to Invite Press Coverage Before Search Engine Was Live?

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This story has been updated and corrected. See below for details.

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- When Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced Bing, his company's new search engine, last week, it was greeted with the kind of press coverage most internet upstarts can only dream of. Bing was the subject of 1,500 news stories, spent almost a full day on Twitter's trending-topics list and, per Nielsen Online, accounted for 0.23% of all blog conversations that day (by comparison, the news that Time Warner was officially shedding AOL accounted for 0.05%).

The trouble, though, was that for most people, Bing didn't exist. Visitors to Bing.com were greeted with a landing page -- "Coming soon," it teased -- and a three-minute video trailer outlining some of the search engine's highlights. (We'll leave a full creative critique of the video to our colleague Bob Garfield, but viral hit, it's not.)

It's not an unusual strategy to try to build buzz before a product launches. But with the internet, there's an expectation of instant gratification, and some people were puzzled when they got to Bing.com and couldn't actually try it out. TechCrunch's Michael Arrington said in a post that Google's simultaneous announcement of a new e-mail product, Wave, trumped Bing's announcement largely for that reason.

Traffic to Bing.com on launch day totaled 0.13% of all people on the internet on May 28. The day before launch, it was seen by 0.009% of all people online, according to Compete, and by 0.017% two days before launch.

There are two schools of thought on how to launch a product, said Michael Kempner, CEO of public-relations firm MWW. Some believe in teasing a product to build up prelaunch buzz, but others say you shouldn't announce what you can't sell or see.

"It's one thing to announce hardware or a consumer-electronics product and build up anticipation and something else to announce an internet product that's not available," he said. But he stopped short of criticizing the strategy. For one thing, he said, percolating buzz a week before launch isn't long enough to tire people of the subject; for another, Microsoft has the pockets to follow up with a big, broad consumer push at launch.

Big push next
And it will. As Ad Age has reported, the company is planning an $80 million to $100 million ad push from JWT for the search engine's launch this week. In fact, in what can only be described as a fish-where-the-fish-are strategy, it has already started running a Google AdWords campaign touting Bing.com.

Microsoft has spent the past month testing the search engine internally, and screen shots have leaked out across the web. CEO Steve Ballmer was scheduled to speak at The Wall Street Journal and AllThingsD's D Conference on May 28, and the company seized the opportunity to introduce the service to the same audience that had already been following leaked information.

"A brand change and rollout of this magnitude takes a bit of time, and given our release schedule to employees and consumers and its proximity to the D conference, we thought it was a good time to share Bing with the industry as we get ready to roll it out for consumers," said Adam Sohn, a director in Microsoft's online-services group. He said consumers would be getting access to Bing as early as Sunday night in preview form. "Given all this, we felt this was a good compromise strategy to set the stage for customers in advance of Bing's availability."

And if they don't, there's always that ad campaign.

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Contributing: Michael Bush

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UPDATE: This story updates launch-day traffic to Bing.com while also correcting data from Compete.

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