Ba Da Bing Ba Da Bust

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I google. Constantly. I don’t “bing” things on a regular basis. Not yet anyway. But I did use the recently-launched Microsoft search engine to make flight arrangements for the SES Conference I'm attending in San Jose next month. The exercise only made me want to keep googling.

Microsoft has been promoting Bing Travel, which resides as a link on the Bing home page, as a “smart travel search site” that helps customers easily compare, filter and sort flight results from hundreds of airline and hotel Websites when arranging a trip.

In its description of Bing Travel, Microsoft claims it is “different than online travel agencies, such as Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia.” Bing Travel also features Price Predictor, a cool tool that predicts whether fares for flights and hotels are rising or dropping and provides a recommendation to buy now or buy later. I used it, and I saved my company $100 on airfare.

As I ran my search for flights on Bing Travel, the user interface reminded me of travel comparison sites such as Sidestep and Kayak. These sites run all the possible permutations and provide the user with flight options aggregated and listed in one place for easy comparison.

I found it useful to see all of those flight possibilities on Bing, but unlike other comparison engines, Bing’s system also automatically opened new browser windows for four travel sponsors: Expedia, Hotwire, Priceline.com and Bookingbuddy. How very annoying. It's not exactly a smooth ba da bing, ba da boom process.

Even more annoying – and damaging to the brand in the long run – is that Bing is saying one thing and doing another. The technology giant’s entire ad campaign via JWT is built around Bing as an antidote to what it is calling “search overload syndrome.” It exhorts users to “Find the cure at Bing.com.”

Microsoft’s tagline for the campaign?  “It’s not just a search engine. It’s the first ever decision engine. From Microsoft.” Sources put the ad spend at $80 million to $100 million, with a heavy emphasis on TV ads. The TV ads are funny and clever and communicate the brand message powerfully.

In practice, however, auto-loading multiple windows from several travel agencies simply provides unnecessary searching options, since these agencies are already well represented on Bing Travel’s results page of available flights. They are also featured in prominent links to each of the sponsor sites along the right-hand column of the page. The browser pop-ups hinder my ability to make a decision. Instead of booking travel, I’m busy closing down all the separate browser windows. Information overload indeed.

Microsoft obviously sold the pop-up browser windows to these online travel agencies as part of the sponsorship deal. But why would you spend close to $100 million, betting big to promote a new search engine that goes head-to-head with Google, the 800-lb. gorilla of search, and then completely destroy the brand and its positioning just to earn a few dollars from advertisers on one of your search channels?
Doesn’t sound like a cure to me. Sounds like ba da bing, ba da bust. Maybe it's time to call in Paulie Walnuts to knock some sense into the folks in Redmond.
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