NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Microsoft's first TV ad for Bing, its new search engine, breaks today, and it's nothing if not dramatic. The 60-second spot, titled "Manifesto," mentions being "lost in the links" in the same breath as bank bailouts and the collapse of the financial market.
|Microsoft says the idea behind 'Manifesto' is to elicit an emotional response about a concept that is decidedly not emotional.|
"While everyone was searching, there was bailing; while everyone was lost in the links, there was collapsing," the voice-over begins, amid montages of Google-owned YouTube videos that have become the butt of jokes everywhere and dethroned executives exiting office buildings. It continues: "We don't need queries and keywords if they bring back questions and confusion. From this moment on, search overload is officially over."
While pages of results on search giant Google or No. 2 Yahoo certainly didn't cause the current economic meltdown, Gayle Troberman, general manager for advertising and customer engagement at Microsoft, said the idea behind the ad was to tap into the current zeitgeist and elicit an emotional response about a concept that, on its face, is decidedly not emotional.
"Search has been about number of results and access to everything, and when you talk to people, they don't want everything anymore," she said. "Less is the new more. ... [People] want the right things for them."
The marketing challenge, according to Microsoft executives, is that people don't believe there are any problems with how they search. Most consumers say they are satisfied with search today, but Microsoft says its own behavioral studies of what people do when they go online and type in queries indicate otherwise, as people often spend lots of time tweaking queries and, in some cases, abandon them altogether, unable to find what they're seeking.
"We've been lulled into thinking it's OK to spend two hours doing something that should have taken a few minutes," said Ty Montague, co-president and chief creative officer at JWT North America, which is executing the ads as part of an $80 million to $100 million marketing push.
Bid for larger share of search
Bing, which went live for most people as early as Sunday, is Microsoft's attempt to gain a larger share of the consumer search market. If it's successful, a larger share of the search-advertising dollars will follow. Microsoft is positioning Bing as a "decision engine" vs. a search engine, although Bing doesn't actually make decisions for people. Rather, it contains some useful filters that can, in some cases, help people sort through search results more easily. In other instances, it actually resolves queries within the search results. A search for "NBA playoffs," for example, will bring up links to sites such as NBA.com but will first show the current series score as well as results of recent games and a schedule of upcoming ones.
None of the ads -- from the "Manifesto" spot breaking today to a new round of ads airing in the next couple of weeks -- mentions Microsoft's search competitors by name, but the inference is pretty clear: Google equals "search overload." Said Mr. Montague: "I don't mean to be coy, but we want people to draw their own conclusions. ... We saw no reason to pick a personal fight."
Microsoft will drive home the point of search overload in the second round of ads, which introduces "search overload syndrome." In the ads, a person mentions something that could be considered a keyword (such as "cellphone" or "Hawaii") and another starts spouting off the kinds of facts and related topics that could surface in a search-results page. The humorous ads will break a week or two after "Manifesto."
Microsoft is not the first to launch a big TV campaign to try to boost sampling of a search engine. Ask.com, for example, ran two campaigns in the past three years, which boosted share slightly in the short term but did nothing to help it in the long term. Microsoft execs boast this is the first time a product will live up to the promise, and that will be the key to sustaining share.
"The tests we've done internally have our results are virtually indistinguishable from Google's," said Yusuf Mehdi, senior VP-online audience business group at Microsoft. He said the way the engine will differentiate itself is improvement in four areas: travel, local, health and shopping, as well as a new user experience for organizing results.
'Sort of the smaller, scrappy upstart'
He said some of the changes Microsoft made will be hard for Google to replicate, because anything that changes pages affects monetization -- and Google simply can't afford a big impact on its monetization. "For us, the one benefit we have of being sort of the smaller, scrappy upstart is [that] we can afford to take a few more risks with the user experience, with the monetization," he said.
When asked whether the ads were fairly categorizing the current search experience, given that other search engines have tried to enhance their filters as well, Mr. Mehdi said Microsoft has "gone farther, faster to try and deliver a more targeted, relevant experience. And that's where I think we have some differentiation."
Not everyone agrees. Andrew Lovasz, VP-search marketing at Moxie Interactive, which handles paid and organic search marketing for clients such as Verizon, Puma, Jenny Craig and Nestle, said, "[Bing] is good, but it's not groundbreaking," and he's skeptical that the product is differentiated enough for a big ad push to provide long-term results.
His skepticism is partly grounded in history, he said. "Ask.com arguably is one of the best products out there. It's a fantastic product, and they've spent millions on advertising," he said. But Ask's share today: 3.8%, less than half of Microsoft's.