Fictional site for Microsoft's developer push

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Microsoft quietly launched an unbranded website last month, working with its direct marketing agency-of-record, Wunderman, that aims to generate awareness for Microsoft Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 without ever mentioning them.

Although Microsoft product launches tend to come with lots of marketing glitz, including events and big media buys, the software giant took a different tact here in an attempt to better engage the savvy (and pitch-weary) developer/IT buyers with its latest updates to Microsoft Office and SharePoint. 

Featuring fictional company Allure Bays Corp. (a nod to the decade-old Internet meme, “All your base are belong to us”), the site offers tongue-in-cheek infomercial-style videos and copy. “Easter eggs,” hidden clues developers left for site visitors to discover, are sprinkled throughout the site and the content alludes to the products and their features.

Jerry Hayek, group marketing manager in Microsoft's US central marketing team, noted that the company wanted to reach a relatively “jaded” audience, so it tried to speak to them in their own language.

“We go through launches on new versions of products, it seems, like, every year,” he added. “One of the things we looked at is what do we do in terms of innovation? We began to look at unbranded activities, things that could engage our audiences with something new, something that has a feeling of engagement that allows them to unwrap, or explore something to find new ideas, that doesn't necessarily say Microsoft on it.”

A leaderboard on the allurebays.com site pits registered users against each other in a competition to discover all 45 of the “Easter eggs” on the site. While users must register to participate, Hayek said Microsoft is not collecting the information for retargeting, though some ad retargeting is taking place.

“The intent is to start with entertainment and humor, and get through that filter to create a bridge,” added Brian Donaldson, group account director, Wunderman Seattle.

While some of the comments on the Allure Bay's YouTube page are less than flattering, including some that call the videos unfunny or confusing, Hayek said the campaign is a success in its target demographic. So far, it has about 25,000 registered users. Its most popular Allure Bay's YouTube video has about 45,000 views.

“When we look at the developer audience, getting an engagement of 150,000 to 200,000 (spread across several videos) … is a win,” he said. “It's a fairly jaded audience. There are a lot of companies that want to talk to them.”

Sheri McLeish a Forrester Research analyst that has covered Microsoft for the last two years said she found the site “confusing.”

“I'm not sure what it's supposed to do,” she said. “But maybe there's something I'm missing.”

She agreed that 40,000 views on a single video was a positive accomplishment for the campaign, and noted that it demonstrates Microsoft's interest in video as one more sales tool.

When asked if there is a danger in some visitors "not getting" the site, Donaldson countered, that's part of the point. "That's the insight that this is based on," he said. "Don't connect the dots for them. These are technologists. They are smart people. They want to find things on their own."

Paid media on sites like TheOnion.com, Digg.com and Geek.net helped to promote the launch, as well as some blogger outreach and promotion at Microsoft's Tech-Ed conference in New Orleans in June.

The six-figure cost of the site was mostly built into Wunderman's retainer, Hayek said. He added that this campaign demonstrates a continued shift of traditional ad dollars into digital.

“Office has very high awareness already,” he said. “It allows us to go and take dollars that we would put into traditional media or digital media and put into things like this, digital innovation.”

Wunderman's Blast Radius managed the development of the site, while Academy designed the creative work.

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