Advertisers, Clients Embrace MSN’s Efforts to Test Limits of Online Marketing

REDMOND, Wash., Sept. 29, 2004 — With future generations expected to tune in more frequently to their PCs and routinely turn off their TVs, MSN is helping advertisers connect with audiences online and finesse their Internet marketing campaigns.

Designed to help traditional advertisers push the envelope of online advertising creative on some of the most desirable marketing space on the Internet, the Creative Connection Program teams some of the most clever minds in advertising with its own top talents and advanced technology to develop online advertising breakthroughs. The MSN Creative Connection Program seeks to enable print, broadcast and outdoor advertising pioneers to better manipulate the online medium, using tools like sight, sound, motion and interactivity for marketing purposes.

The program presently is facilitating the future work of award-winning creative directors and their existing clients. The Creative Connection pairs Kathy Delaney of Deutsch Inc. with Revlon , Ty Montague of Wieden + Kennedy New York with Sharp , and Paul Lavoie of TAXI with Covenant House , the largest privately funded childcare agency in the United States.

Each of the creative directors and clients taking part in the Creative Connection Program has free reign of the MSN network to develop distinct and innovative campaigns for their clients. To sharpen their online edge, teams will equip themselves with the resources and talent offered by the MSN custom solutions team.

The Creative Connection Program follows the March announcement of findings from the Advertising Accountability research study, sponsored by MSN, that demonstrates online advertising is a critical part of the media mix. Developed by the research firm Marketing Evolution, the study determined that online advertising lifted sales for targeted consumer packaged goods by 7 percent to 12.5 percent and outperformed other types of media by as much as 30 percent.

Eric Hadley, director of sales and marketing for MSN, recently sat down and spoke with the three participating creative directors: Delaney, Montague and Lavoie for a better sense of how the advertising industry is responding to 21-st century realities and how partners such as MSN are helping them navigate the online medium.

Hadley: A popular TV network recently introduced two new series by previewing them commercial-free on the Internet and distributing CD-ROMs to certain magazine subscribers before they aired on TV. One of the series’ was viewed in part, or full, roughly 700,000 times. What, if any, are the implications to advertising and advertisers?

Lavoie: The idea of distributing a sample of a product before a mass launch is not new. We have all received trial samples of shampoo or gum. What is new is using this technique for the TV category. It is brilliant because despite the Internet being a mass-reach communication tool, each consumer feels they are getting an exclusive or an insider’s view. The numbers clearly demonstrate that consumers embrace this opportunity. This experiment also proves that the Internet can deliver an emotional experience that in the past had been the exclusive domain of TV. This is a huge opportunity for advertisers.

Montague: From my perspective, this underscores change taking place in the industry. Traditionally, Hollywood and creators of entertainment attracted an audience, and then advertisers paid to interrupt that audience. We’re moving to a world where the audience is becoming more empowered, with DVRs, remote controls, the Internet. The idea of interruption is now obsolete, and clients will think of themselves as creators of their own audience.

Delaney: There are so many distribution channels now; advertisers have to be really smart about what will best meet their business objectives. The Internet was a great fit for the TV network’s project and simply another indication of the medium’s power to reach consumers and create some buzz.

Hadley: There is an entire generation of people watching less television. How is this affecting what you do for your clients strategically and creatively?

Lavoie: TAXI has always been structured around strategic planning collaborating with creative disciplines in advertising, design, interactive and now branded entertainment, so our business model has always been totally independent from the medium. In fact, media is not part of our core offer so we don’t care where the channel is we want to know where the customer is. Our job is storytelling, even if it is on toilet paper for an erectile-difficulties campaign. This approach has meant that TV was always just one of many options and has kept us flexible and ready for change.

Montague: At Wieden + Kennedy New York, we’ve never really put ourselves in a box that way either. Our point of view is that it doesn’t really matter what medium the story is being told in. We’re equally enthusiastic about telling stories in broadcast, print, online and other mediums.

Delaney: Deutsch has never been an agency to recommend TV as the solution unless we truly felt that it would move a client’s business best. We’ve always been about integrated approaches. Doing what we think will work the best no matter the medium, has always created great results for our clients. And now, we have more tools in the toolbox to play with than ever before.

Hadley: What is the best online work you’ve done?

Lavoie: I’m really proud of a series of CRM pieces TAXI did for BMW Mini. They transform data gathering into a full blown brand experience. The whole thing takes about 4 minutes, so compared to a 30 second TV spot you have the consumer’s attention longer, but have to sustain his interest too. They delivered a 70-percent click-through rate and measurable feedback for the client.

Montague: Beta7 is far and away the best thing that Wieden + Kennedy New York has done recently. It launched a video game for Sega for ESPN/NFL Football, which had an unusual feature called first-person football. We describe Beta7 as live, interactive theater. We created a story that was played by actors in real time for four months. The title character — Beta7 — was out on the gaming boards. He created his own Web site, as did Sega. Included in the campaign were viral videos, viral voicemails, leaflets, physical stunting, traditional TV and Web films. It was an integrated media playground for people to experience, and it was hugely successful, generating great buzz online and in the media. Sales were strong as well.

Delaney: I am most proud of Deutsch’s work because it took integration to a new level and brought the “real experiences” brand proposition to life in an engaging, dynamic manner. The work took advantage of the interactive medium in a way that “walks the walk.” Taking a brand online doesn’t just mean using the right colors and logos, everything about the work communicates the brand. That means the way it looks, the way it works, the way it’s navigated and what it says. Every detail of the user experience can be harnessed to deliver the brand message.

Hadley: How has your view of online advertising changed over the past few years and why?

Lavoie: I think it just keeps getting better and better. From a creative perspective, it’s all about bandwidth, and as bandwidth improves, so does the richness of campaigns. It all adds up to a more powerful and impactful medium for telling stories

Montague: It is definitely improving, but it’s still in its infancy. The Web has seen three stages: Stage 1 being the technologists, Stage 2 being the direct marketing people, and we’re just rolling into Stage 3, where the Web is being used as a storytelling device.

Delaney: I think we all agree that online advertising has evolved over the past few years. New ad formats, new technologies and broadband allows us to go deeper and gives us a bigger palette to work with. Creatives are more focused on using interactive to create emotional connections with consumers, provide more engagement, and find new ways to tell stories.

As the medium matures, there is greater clarity of what it can and cannot do. Clients know their consumers are spending time online so they are not questioning whether or not they should have a Web presence anymore – they are figuring out what that presence should be.

Hadley: You and your peers were trained, for the most part, in traditional media such as print and television. Do you feel equipped to create your best work in the online space?

Lavoie : I mentioned that TAXI was founded on the basis of cross pollination of creative disciplines, so experimenting with new mediums has always felt natural. What’s important to us is not having a fractured brand across media, so we all instinctively think beyond our specific disciplines. If your world is limited to traditional media you might find the idea of the technology daunting, but it really comes back to telling a compelling story. Technology should be viewed as an opportunity to bring a vision to life in a new way. There really are no more excuses.

Montague : I tend to be fairly passionate about it. I wasn’t born a TV writer, or a print writer. I wasn’t even born a creative person. Everyone gets labels stuck on them. For us, it’s not so much about the technology as much as it is the story. Technology is always going to change. People are never going to change. They will always respond to great storytelling, and that is our focus. We view the Internet as simply another medium. Those who can’t separate context from content will never get beyond the banner ad.

Delaney : Creatives at Deutsch are about finding the best solution to create positive results. And embracing interactive as it became a force on the horizon was a no brainer for everyone. Traditional creatives are very involved in interactive projects and vice versa. In fact, an interactive team recently led our TV efforts for the latest wave of our Monster Portraits campaign. It’s all about the brand voice and speaking it in any medium.

Hadley: What is it like to work with MSN as part of their Creative Connection project? How can online publishers and MSN help you bring creativity in the online space?

Lavoie: Our team’s experience with MSN has been fantastic. MSN was open to challenges and has been an active creative partner. They had just as many ideas as we did. They brought technology expertise and an amazing wealth of consumer data. It’s been a gold mine. I think that to remain competitive, companies like MSN need to go out and help traditional agencies understand the possibilities. They need to get in on the process early when decisions to bring a message to market are being made. Training and education in the shape of forums like the MSN Creative Connection are exactly what’s needed.

Montague: They are awesome. Great and open-minded. Just the idea of the MSN Creative Connection is really smart. They are not just saying they want change — they are helping to create the change. What is the old saying? The best way to predict the future is to invent it. They are helping to advance online communications. They have been open-minded and extremely helpful in the project we’re working on with them.

Delaney: We were delighted that MSN selected us to participate. I think it is an important program and a valiant effort to raise the creative bar online. Online publishers can help marketers and agencies bring creativity to life in the online space by collaborating and figuring out it’s not just about media placement. It’s more about working together to create new paradigms.

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