MSN breaks $100 mil-plus blitz

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Get ready for butterfly power--Microsoft Corp.'s MSN that is. Microsoft on Oct. 25 breaks a $100 million-plus marketing blitz for its MSN Explorer Internet portal and online access service that marks the company's first global effort for the interactive brand.

"Butterfly," the first of several planned 30-second TV spots, broke on NBC's "Today'' and other morning chat programs, touting the MSN brand as a pervasive presence that makes it easy for people to connect to one another and the activities they enjoy. The brand-oriented commercial from McCann-Erickson Worldwide, San Francisco, features MSN's colorful butterfly symbol and a new tagline: "Make it your home." The spot, accompanied by a version of the Simon & Garfunkle track "Homeward Bound," features lush images of an Asian schoolgirl standing in a field of sheep, a dapper gentleman standing poolside, a Vegas showgirl in the desert, a sumo wrestler and a ballet dancer. The omnipresent butterfly flutters around them to position MSN as a pervasive experience that's a part of people's everyday lives. The spot also features MSN upgrades, such as online buddy lists, stock tracking, paying bills on MoneyCentral and advanced search features. Future spots in the campaign, which will run through next year, will flag shopping functions, free phone calls, MSN Mobile and features.

"The brand message is built on this idea of home," said Eric Hadley, MSN marketing director. "You can check stocks no matter where you go, store music [tracks] with My Music and the integrated media player, do instant messaging with Hotmail, make free phone calls on the Web, get quick access to money--all of it is integrated into MSN Explorer."

"We will use everything in our arsenal to help explain why MSN helps you feel at home on the Web," Mr. Hadley added.

The multimedia blitz--including prime-time network buys, early and late-night TV, college football and the World Series broadcasts, radio, print, banner ads on the Web and extensive event marketing--signals the next phase of Microsoft's push for MSN, aiming to solidify its brand identity while flagging advanced features. Microsoft is putting at least $150 million in advertising behind the effort, Mr. Hadley said. The spending doesn't include expenses for other marketing activities unfurling around the globe.

Mr. Hadley said print ads, in conjunction with Microsoft partners such as Best Buy Co. and RadioShack Corp., break in USA Today and other newspapers, newsweeklies, and monthly magazines. More than 1 billion print impressions are anticipated. Radio spots will hit in 16 markets. European markets are expected to get major outdoor efforts, along with cinema advertising.

The campaign signals the second phase in a major relaunch of MSN that debuted in February. That initial push consisted of a multimedia barrage centered on the "MSN Project" TV campaign that introduced consumers to the concept of the "everyday Web."

MSN racked up 210 million unique users in September, while the MSN Internet access part of the business now has 3.5 million subscribers in North America, said Bob Visse, lead product manager for MSN.

MSN Explore also is adding a kids channel. MSN snared exclusive content deals with Walt Disney Co. and Discovery Communications. The kids content will be available to anyone who uses MSN Explorer or who comes to the MSN network. Promotional tie-ins and other deals are planned, though Mr. Visse declined to elaborate on them.

Other new partners for MSN include Musicland, H&R Block and Electronics Boutique. "Partnering with them will help us boost our distribution," Mr. Visse said, adding, "MSN Explorer will be available within their retail sites, and special offers will be available through them." Deals will be similar to RadioShack's $400 off a PC purchase when consumers sign up for three years of MSN.

Copyright October 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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