Microsoft's MSN fattens banners with rich media

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Microsoft corp., hoping to breathe new life into the beleaguered banner ad, today kicks off another phase of its enriched ad program.

Six new interactive ad styles are intended to help marketers improve online product merchandising as well as glean more useful intelligence about consumer needs, said Mike Siegenthaler, marketing manager for MSN sales.

"What we've done is give our advertisers a rich-media experience without all of the costs and the heaviness of a rich-media ad," Mr. Siegenthaler said. "We've stripped them down so they're fast, have quick download times and you still get the interactivity of a rich-media ad."

Gathering feedback from advertisers during recent months, the MSN sales team learned that marketers want to display multiple products within one banner. Advertisers also find the idea of linking online ads to print images to be appealing. Integration of online and offline promotions is another need.


Each banner is designed to meet different objectives. For example, the Scrolling Graphics banner lets consumers scroll from the left to right side of a banner to see a more complete product lineup.

Active Catalogue allows window shopping within a banner by clicking; a Scrolling Text ad lets marketers have product descriptions and text scroll from bottom to top along the right side of a banner.

Expanding Graphic and Expanding HTML banners are also part of the mix. The Expanding Graphic ad allows a print ad to drop down from a banner; Expanding HTML lets a consumer fill out a form or sign up for more information without leaving the page. This is accomplished by dragging the cursor over a banner; the form drops down instantaneously.

Finally, a Scratch-Off Banner, designed for online promotions, lets a consumer see a branding message on the left side, then drag the cursor to the right to scratch and erase for a hidden message.

"What these banners do is allow merchandising. They also cut down the number of steps" consumers have to take to get more information or buy a product, Mr. Siegenthaler said. He declined to specify how much Microsoft hopes to increase ad sales on MSN with the new banner program.


Microsoft, the No. 3 Web property in unique audience (see Page 58), has signed four current advertisers to test the new ads: American Isuzu Motors, Barnes & Noble, E-Trade Group and Unilever's Dove brand.

Dove tested two of the new banner styles for a week.

"Click-through rates were twice what we normally get," said Stan Weinstein, interactive media manager at Unilever's Interactive Brand Center, declining to specify click-through rates.

One ad showcases different varieties of the bar soap, such as Dove for sensitive, oily and dry skin.

"The enhanced banner unfurls like a print ad and it shows that this stuff can indeed be engaging," Mr. Weinstein said. "The goal will be to look beyond the flat banner space. We want to get learning and understanding for our value exchange with consumers."

The enhanced banners will work on other sites. The banner upgrades currently are free and ad agencies can download the software code from Microsoft's site.

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