there's more at stake for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Internet network than pulling off a medal-worthy performance on behalf of the 10 sponsors it created digital marketing programs for on olympics.com. The greater purpose is to raise its profile with marketers, showing what's possible online to increase the Web's share of ad dollars.
MSN signed the sponsors to digital marketing and media packages, the most comprehensive of which sold for $2 million apiece. Sponsors include AT&T Corp., Kimberly-Clark Corp.'s Kleenex brand and McDonald's Corp. Microsoft declined to specify how many of the 10 opted for the top-tier package, but even if only five did, MSN would have scored a $10 million payday for the 18-day event.
AT&T Corp. augmented its Games' sponsorship with a TV/Web promotion to win a grand prize of a lifetime of trips to the Winter Games. Kleenex is using MSN's technology for its sponsorship of Emotional Moments of the Day, a daily slide show of the Games' high and low points. McDonald's is touting a new menu and sponsoring a Visions of Gold section created by Tribal DDB, New York, an interactive arm of Omnicom Group.
MSN sold packages on olympics.com, which also serves as a gateway to the nbcolympics.com and saltlake2002.org home pages. Olympics.com racked up 788,815 unique visitors (including traffic to saltlake2002.org) who logged on from home for the week ending Feb. 10; nbcolympics.com brought in 1,006,064 unique visitors, according to Nielsen/Net-Ratings. MSNBC is producing content for all three Web gateways.
"There are only a very small handful of events like [the Winter Olympics]," said Allen Weiner, principal analyst, NetRatings. "This isn't like the Super Bowl; it's much better," he said, adding that marketers can target online ads and sponsorships based on sport and time of day.
MSN's new ad-sales chief hopes the network's Olympics push will lure advertisers to begin spending between 6% and 8% of their ad budgets online-substantially above the 2% to 3% currently spent by most marketers. "Online [marketing] should be considered in branding; it's cost-effective and an optimal part of any media mix," said Joanne Bradford, VP-chief revenue officer, MSN.
Ms. Bradford, an ad-sales veteran of McGraw-Hill's Business Week, has been stumping with digital agencies and major marketers. At a recent national sales meeting, Ms. Bradford rolled out two sales tools to her team-ad opportunities tied to the network's event calendar and contextual placement of next-generation ad products such as full-page and so-called fly units.
Microsoft does not break out ad revenue for MSN, but reported in its fiscal second quarter ended Dec. 31 that revenue from Internet access and online advertising combined grew 40% from the prior quarter. The company said, however, that year-over-year advertising revenues would be flat.
Ms. Bradford also rallied her team to organize around customer needs, saying, "It's critical that we underpromise and overdeliver." That point was driven home shortly after her arrival last November when an Ad Age anecdotal survey (AA, Dec. 17) found that MSN ranked lowest in interactive-agency relations. Ms. Bradford said she met with the agencies that participated in the survey and is working to improve MSN's track record. "We have an opportunity to get better at this [agency engagement] and get better at it quickly," she said.
One digital shop has noticed a change. "MSN seems to be much more focused on the agency. It's an evolutionary process and they're moving in the right direction," said Adam Gerber, director- media strategy, WPP Group's Digital Edge.
With 33 million Internet-access subscribers, AOL Time Warner's AOL dwarfs MSN's 7.7 million Internet access subscribers. But MSN has 270 million unique users worldwide flocking to its services like MSN Money and MSN eShop and has an aggressive global-expansion plan.