Can an $80M Ad Campaign Help Microsoft Search?

12 Comments

[qi:115] Microsoft (s MSFT) is going to spend $80 million on an advertising campaign to support its new search effort, rumored to be called Bing, as the company once again takes on deeply entrenched rivals Google (s GOOG) and Yahoo (s YHOO). AdAge magazine reports that the campaign could eventually hit $100 million. There was some talk that Microsoft would rename its search effort Kumo.

Microsoft has tried many tricks, including giving people cash-back rewards, to grab a bigger market share in the search business. The results don’t match the efforts. Microsoft’s search query share keeps declining. In order to jump-start its search business, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant attempted to buy Yahoo, but was rebuffed. It later bought a search startup, called Powerset, and is betting that it can build a whole different experience that will allow it to win market share.

Microsoft research shows that “42 percent of searches require refinement, and 25 percent of clicks are the back button,” AdAge reports. Well, Microsoft would clearly have to deliver results that are far superior to Google and would have to invent a user experience that would prompt people to switch from the search giant. As AdAge points out, “about 65 percent of people are satisfied or very satisfied with online search.”

Search is not quite broken, so there is very little intention on my part to find a solution. I am sure down the line things may change, but for now, Google does a good enough job. It is fast, and the fidelity of the results is still pretty good. In other words, I don’t have much of an incentive to switch. More importantly, Google has become part of the popular vernacular — much like Microsoft Office. We don’t search anymore — we Google stuff. I wonder if this $80 million to $100 million advertising campaign can really help Microsoft.

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12 Comments

Jeff Dickey

People keep expecting Microsoft to technically out-innovate a used tissue, and express surprise and dismay when it doesn’t happen. Name three – or even one – product or service that Microsoft created first. It hasn’t happened in 30 years, and it’s not GOING to happen in the next thirty, or the next 300. The used tissue has absolutely nothing to fear in that regard.

What Microsoft have always done, what that “interesting” answer by SteveB pointed to, is a different way of doing things. They’ll either go into a ready-made monopoly market – think DOS begetting Windows without OEMs ever really having a choice to say ‘No thanks’ – or they’ll deliberately be #2 or #3 in a field, like search, until they can figure out a way to leverage their other monopolies with the secret sauce of not-quite-standard “standards compliance” (ask any Web designer) and infinite marketing to achieve a new dominant position. That’s how they got to the top of the heap in office software, if anybody remembers. Word for DOS and the first few versions of Word for Windows were just absolute garbage compared to WordPerfect for DOS, Nota Bene, or any of a half-dozen other worthy contenders. While it’s fun to play ‘what-if’ games – what if there was an industry-standard, open file format back then that all the other guys could share and share alike, so .DOC lock-in didn’t happen; or how about if the US DOJ had actually done it’s farking job instead of cowering in fear of the greed-is-good Reaganauts? History happened the way it did, and Microsoft was able to take advantage of that by completely foregoing anything recognizable as ‘business ethics’ or ‘corporate good citizenship’. They never HAD to innovate before – only to create the impression in the mass media that they did.

Now along comes search, where they’re not anywhere close to being the #2 contender, let alone #1 – partly because their business model just doesn’t translate to a market where a significant subset of potential customers/usees have a clue, and partly because they themselves don’t understand the difference between search (or Web services in general – who’s used MSN Spaces lately?) and traditional, top-down industrial domination. The top-down model is what the last 500 years of human history has been about, particularly the entirety of the 20th century. The Net has been a disruptive technology precisely because it has the potential to do away with that top-down, broadcast model and replace it with something more human, more collaborative and communal. THAT scares Microsoft silly – because they know that to be dominant in that kind of an ecosystem, they actually have to bring real value to a level playing field, and they’ve never in their history had to do that; their entire internal corporate culture actively impedes their ability to do that.

So no, I don’t think $80 million is going to change anything. Advertising isn’t the answer; putting $100 in the pocket of everyone who visits search.microsoft.com each time they visit isn’t the answer. They’re not going to be able to solve the real problem, that is, to adapt to the new reality, unless they undergo thoughtful, meaningful and radical internal transformation of who and what they are as an organization. And I really don’t think an organization led by the likes of SteveB and the faux-testosterone-overloaded, big-talking acolytes that hold court in every floor of every building of their campus can make that kind of change.

Search is the canary. Everybody in the Microsoft shaft is already dead; they just don’t know it yet. And like the mythical T-rex-shot-through-the-brain-with-a-howitzer, they’ll do plenty more damage before they finally do fall over…and that ‘falling over’ won’t be quiet or gentle, either.

Allen

When they issue the press release I will read about here and just about every other blog out there. And because we are talking M$ there is sure to be plenty of follow up comentry on how good/crappy it is, how Apple could have dont it better but they’re too smart to try, etc., etc. The 80 Mil is wasted on me and anyone else who reads tech blogs.

But for the part of the population who doesn’t read tech blogs, those poor souls that couldnt tell GigaOm from a Giga Ohm, it could make a difference. Without some sort of campaign I cant see my parents for instance asking “What’s this new Bing thing, any good?” but that’s the crux right there.

The money may help to get a wider adoption, but it still comes down to whether or not the results are noticeably better than Google, and given all of the user data that Google has been constantly mining and feeding back into improving their algorithm that’s a tall ask.

M$ would be better waiting for the blogosphere’s feedback before going mainstream.

anon

Fundamental problem with MSFT is its DNA of “Eventually we will get there – and we will keep trying till we get there”. In consumer space you do not get more than one chance. People have made up their minds on Search, Music Devices, etc. MSFT needs to launch a V1 product as their life depended on it – and not we will get there on V.x model.

Another problem that I see with MSFT is CASH. They have so much of it – that they spend first and then ask questions. I wonder even in these times, if people are asking tough questions. Good luck to Kumo (or what ever it is called).

GoCatGo

Microsoft is trapped in the 20th century. They need to innovate, not (or, perhaps, then) advertise. For a company with seemingly unlimited resources and money, they don’t really “wow” me very often. Astounding.

jassim

MS still hasn’t figured out how the internet consumer behaves..which is why apart from acquisitions they haven’t been able to have anything cool..despite still having the lions share of the OS and the office suite market they haven’t been able to smartly integrate it into the internet era…unless a major cultural shift happens MS would continue to try these ‘gimmicks’and flounder

pwb

Cashback and $100m ad campaigns are *NOT* the way to win in search. With Windows and Office just call it MSN, make it good enough and be a super-profitable #2.

Windowslogy

Microsoft still doesn’t get it. It’s a bit stubborn. Search is not its market. People know Microsoft as an operating system or office suite maker, which are both offline matters. Why doesn’t Microsoft focus on things it can do best, please stop trying to monopolize all sectors of markets. It cannot do that anymore because customers or users know what they like and serve them best. If Microsoft keeps its stubbornness, Windows’ precious tools, IE and Windows Media Player, will risk going their separate ways.

Chirag Mehta

I was recently at Steve Ballmer’s talk at Stanford (http://ecorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=2242) when a student asked him a question about Microsoft’s search strategy. Ballmer had an interesting answer. He said that not only we are not #1 in the search but we are far behind from Google. However not being #1 in the business allows you to experiment with that business in all possible ways that #1 player cannot. He was referring to the cashback campaign. It is hard to predict the outcome of this $80 million campaign but I would certainly applaud Microsoft’s strategy that identifies leaders and laggards and invests differently based on the growth potential.

Jeffrey

“Search is not quite broken, so there is very little intention on my part to find a solution.”

But people said that before Google took over.

Maybe Microsoft can get Jerry Seinfeld back to pitch its search to the masses.

Andrew

There is no way it’s going to help… they would be better off using that money to hire developers to create some other more innovative web offerings. Just one example: Beat Google to the ‘web os’ punch by making Windows 8 (or whatever it’s going to be called) completely web based… or at least making that an option for consumers. If they did that, then they would control the ecosystem and be able to integrate their products how they saw fit…

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