|More than a million people a month signed up for the new blog-creating tool.
MSN EXPANDS ONLINE BRANDED-ENTERTAINMENT CAPABILITIES
New Strategy Directly Challenges Yahoo's Lead Position
MSN BETA TESTS NEW SEARCH-AD SYSTEM OVERSEAS
Includes Demographic Functions Google and Yahoo Lack
Pushed live as a Beta test in December, the MSN Spaces concept, which provides anyone with an easy way to start a personal Web log, has proven wildly popular. MSN said 4.5 million people -- or more than a million a month since testing began -- signed up to use the free feature.
MSN Spaces are Web pages with which users can quickly create a Web log, or blog, of personal writings, photographs, lists of favorite music and other personal tidbits. Users can choose to make their blogs available to the public or to keep them private -- accessible only to people they designate.
The new online venue of user-created content and advertising is one of several MSN has introduced recently as part of its reinvigorated branded-entertainment efforts.
"As the Web becomes more personal, what is the right way for the advertiser to integrate itself into an increasingly personal experience?" asked Gayle Troberman, MSN's director of branded entertainment and experiences team. "Once a user chooses to go to a branded experience -- the advertiser is not just creating an impression, they are creating an advocate."
Volvo is advertising on the home page of Spaces and through text links with graphics at the top of users' personal spaces.
MSN has also introduced two new ad products through MSN Messenger, Microsoft's proprietary instant-messaging system. One, called theme packs, offers advertiser-branded characters, backgrounds, photos and audio messages that users can incorporate into their instant messaging. Advertisers include Coca-Cola Co.'s Sprite brand and Adidas.
For example, a user can choose the Sprite-obsessed animated spokescharacter Miles Thirst from Sprite's Web site to greet friends on Messenger. The Adidas theme packs, available in eight countries, will promote the new Adidas 1 shoe. Adidas ads will also be integrated into customers' MSN Messenger game plays.
Messenger is also debuting an audio-video instant-messaging service for which advertising is available. This product, for users who have a PC camera, will present an ad in the seven to 10 seconds it takes for one Messenger user to reach another. "Instead of an hour glass, we show a full-motion video ad," Ms. Troberman said. No advertisers have signed on to the audio Messenger service yet.
Some 155 million users log on to MSN Messenger service each month, according to the company. Messenger and Spaces appeal to an audience of 25- to 39-year-olds who are more Internet-savvy and more affluent than the norm, Ms. Troberman said.