The software giant today announces a promotion with Simon Property Group, which owns or has an interest in more than 250 malls nationwide. The promotion, running from Jan. 2 to Feb. 29, offers gift certificates to consumers who sign up for MSN Internet service at one of the 120 participating malls.
Individuals who sign up for six months of prepaid MSN service (at a cost of $99) get a $50 gift certificate good at any Simon mall. Those who sign up for a full year ($180) receive a $100 certificate.
In addition, shoppers enrolled in Simon's MallPerks customer loyalty program can double their points by signing up for MSN. Non-members can join MallPerks for free with an MSN sign-up.
The push will be promoted via mall signage, S Magazine -- Simon's national in-mall publication -- and at customer information centers staffed with Microsoft-trained personnel. It will also likely be supported by spot media, including radio, TV and print, and is probably to sync up with a national brand campaign for MSN due early next month. McCann-Erickson/A&L, San Francisco and New York, handles.
"This is a great way to diversify for us and reach more consumers," said Diane McDade, PR manager for MSN.com. The promotion "augments our other efforts, and we do think that having something on site where individuals can sign up and get their questions answered is a very appealing plan."
The deal marks the latest in a series of recent alliances between Microsoft and bricks-and-mortar retailers, including Best Buy Co., Costco and Tandy Corp.'s RadioShack. The reasoning behind them: The retailing giants have the kind of mass reach and brand awareness to attract consumer sign-ups.
"We expect more alliances with retailers or flat-out Internet access pushes by offline companies," said Joe Laszlo, an analyst in Internet researcher Jupiter Communications' Bandwidth & Access Strategies practice. Internet service providers "will be more widely available in more ways," he said.
The push comes at a time when Microsoft is repositioning MSN as a Web portal similar to Yahoo!, in a shift away from its original incarnation as a content-driven online service.
According to Jupiter, MSN holds the No. 3 position among ISPs, with 1.9 million subscribers as of the end of the third quarter. Ms. McDade pegged the current number of MSN subscribers at 2.5 million. Jupiter puts America Online/CompuServe at No. 1 with 18 million subscribers, and newly merged Earthlink/Mindspring at No. 2 with 3 million members.
Microsoft is not alone in staking out ISP-retailing partnerships. Yahoo! recently partnered with Kmart Corp. in a broad-ranging pact that includes creation of a new Web site, BlueLight.com, which will have the popular Web portal as its start page; and free Internet access at in-store kiosks.
Separately, America Online last week announced marketing partnerships with Wal-Mart Stores and Circuit City Stores.