While MSN adCenter has been in pilot mode since mid-October, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is announcing the official launch of adCenter at Thursday's MSN Strategic Account Summit... as well as the new name change to Microsoft adCenter.
Along with the launch comes news that adCenter will launch in the UK market on a limited basis in June, begin testing their contextual advertising this summer, provide ads on multiple Live products and drop Yahoo! Search Marketing ads from all US-based searches on MSN Search.
The name change is a very curious decision. With all search related products branded under the MSN name, why change MSN adCenter to Microsoft adCenter? When going to the adCenter site now, it has been entirely rebranded Wednesday evening to coincide with the Thursday announcement. It will be interesting to watch others weigh in on this topic. I am not sure that rebranding from MSN to Microsoft is the best decision for adCenter, but it is certainly a decision that will get people talking about the possible reasons why for the rebrand.
The launch into the UK market is a natural progression for adCenter, and they seem to be taking a similar pilot route into the UK as they did in the US. However, with the experience behind them with the US pilot, I wouldn't expect that the UK pilot would last very long before fully launching.
It has been known that MSN would eventually launch a contextual advertising product to compete with Google AdSense & Yahoo Publisher Network, so this isn't entirely a surprise. But having a summer target date for testing is something many potential publishers will be watching for when the ads begin running on MSN & Microsoft network sites.
And dropping Yahoo! Search Marketing ads is not a surprise at all. MSN has been cutting back on the percentage of ads they show from Yahoo as their adCenter pilot progressed, most recently dropping Yahoo ads to only 30% of all US searches on MSN Search.
Advertisers will also be able to see their advertisements appearing across a number of MSN & Microsoft properties in the future, including Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Spaces, Windows Live Safety Center, Windows Live for Mobile, Office Live and Office Online, and the Xbox® Web site Xbox.com. This definitely ends much speculation about how many of these new free Live branded products would be monetized to make them worthwhile. And it gives adCenter a platform to test contextual targeting prior to launching a product for publishers.
For current pilot advertisers, nothing much will be changed. But for those wanting to advertise, you will no longer have to wait for an invite or an open sign-up day to be able to run ad campaigns on MSN Search.
Postscript From Danny: On the name change, I guess the biggest surprise is that they didn't call it Windows Live adCenter :)
Postscript 2: Microsoft's press release is below:
REDMOND, Wash. ? May 3, 2006 ? Today at the seventh annual MSN® Strategic Account Summit, Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer announced the launch of Microsoft adCenter, the company?s online advertising platform now serving 100 percent of paid search traffic on Microsoft® online properties in the U.S. market.
Ballmer recognized the advertising community for its pivotal support of Microsoft?s rapidly expanding digital content network and said the company is set to deliver even richer opportunities for advertisers in the months to come.
?Ad-supported software services are an integral part of Microsoft?s plans to give consumers access to a broader variety of digital media, whenever they want and on whatever device they prefer,? Ballmer told the audience of more than 700 leading innovators in the advertising, marketing and media industries. ?Our close partnership with the ad community is extremely important to us as we evolve Microsoft from a software company into the world?s largest, most attractive provider of online media through MSN, Windows Live? and adCenter.?
Announced a year ago at the sixth annual Strategic Account Summit in March 2005 as a comprehensive platform and set of tools for advertisers, the Microsoft ad platform was launched today by Ballmer in the U.S. (English version only), joining the service?s availability in Singapore and France and serving 100 percent of paid search ads in these markets. Microsoft adCenter also will begin testing with a limited number of advertisers in the U.K. market in June.
As the advertising engine for Windows Live, MSN and other Microsoft online services, Microsoft adCenter is helping advertisers strategically plan their online buys and is designed to help them gain a higher return on investment by utilizing real audience intelligence and advanced targeting capabilities.
Performics Inc., the performance-based marketing division of DoubleClick Inc., is using Microsoft adCenter extensively with its clients. Stuart Frankel, president of Performics, joined Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft senior vice president and chief advertising strategist, in demonstrating Microsoft adCenter?s capabilities at the Strategic Account Summit.
?We are very encouraged by the results of our campaigns in adCenter. In particular, during the pilot, the vast majority of our clients? conversion rates have been better on MSN than the other major search engines,? Frankel said.
Ballmer and Mehdi outlined a broader vision for adCenter at the conference, sharing a road map of how adCenter would be enhanced to address advertising opportunities beyond paid search. Ballmer noted that Microsoft was committed not only to a next-generation advertising platform for its advertising customers, but also to building through MSN and the Windows Live services the largest, most engaged audience on the planet.
Microsoft adCenter is designed to ultimately provide advertisers with a one-stop-shop experience, whether buying search, contextual or display ads across a number of Microsoft properties. Ballmer emphasized the importance to advertisers of accessing powerful tools and audience intelligence in an easy-to-use, accessible way, and that Microsoft?s network of online sites and services will deliver to advertisers a range of audiences with very different demographics that advertisers will be able to reach in one consistent way. Contextual advertising testing begins on MSN in the U.S. market this summer. In addition, the following Microsoft properties are preparing to launch ads in the near future: Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Spaces, Windows Live Safety Center, Windows Live for Mobile, Office Live and Office Online, and the Xbox® Web site Xbox.com.
The one-stop-shop experience of Microsoft adCenter will allow advertisers to track ad campaign performance and report results in a holistic and measurable way. In response to advertiser feedback, Microsoft has not only built adCenter to deliver innovative reporting capabilities, but also announced that it had acquired DeepMetrix Corp., a privately held provider of Web analytics and business intelligence tools for online marketers and publishers. Expanding upon DeepMetrix technologies such as LiveSTATS.BIZ, Microsoft will deliver new Web analytics applications in future releases of Microsoft adCenter.
More information about Microsoft adCenter and registration is available at http://advertising.msn.com.