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Guest Column: A $500 Million Campaign With Not a Penny for Search?

Search marketing is one of the most powerful ad mediums ever, yet traditional ad agencies continue to have difficulty integrating search into the marketing mix.

Microsoft began a $500 million marketing campaign March 16 to persuade Fortune 500 companies using enterprise software from top competitor IBM to switch to its own platform, which consists of its new Vista operating system, a revamped Office productivity suite and Windows Mobile software.

The campaign, whose slogan is “People-Ready” (as in “are your people ready?”), launched with splashy eight-page newspaper spreads in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other newspapers, plus television commercials during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Microsoft also built an elaborate site at www.micro-soft.com/business/peopleready/default.mspx, including a one-hour streaming video from CEO Steve Ballmer, to serve as a landing page for the campaign.

The stakes are high: Enterprise software represents a $15 billion a year market. And though it’s an open question whether “People-Ready” will join such classic two-word slogans as “Got Milk?” or “Think Different” in the Advertising Slogan Hall of Fame, it’s obvious that McCann Worldwide, Microsoft’s ad agency, put considerable thought into the campaign’s creative component. However, it appears someone may not have thought as carefully about the campaign’s search component or the well-documented fact that current events and high-profile media buys drive search behavior.

The two days after the campaign’s launch we searched for Microsoft’s “People-Ready” site on Google, Yahoo and MSN using the term “People-Ready” and “People Ready,” just like someone who would have seen the TV ads or read the newspapers.

The results were frustrating. On Google, we found plenty of organic references to the Marvin Gaye song “People Get Ready” and some relevant references to news articles citing the launch of the campaign. But we didn’t see Microsoft’s Web site listed anywhere in either the organic or paid listings area. (Note: by March 20, the “People-Ready” site did begin appearing prominently in Google’s organic results, but the search terms “People-Ready” and “Microsoft Vista” remain unbooked, except by the ubiquitous eBay and two software resellers).

On Yahoo, we got a few unrelated organic results for “People Ready,” some references in the News tab, but nothing more. On MSN, the result was much the same, which was especially puzzling, given that paid placements could have been bought at no real cost to Microsoft.

Imagine someone who saw the TV ad the first day and went online to find information about Microsoft’s new products. He may not have remembered the names of the products, just the term “People-Ready.” Wouldn’t it have been prudent to have run a few paid ads to give these folks an easy way to find the products associated with the slogan instead of leaving them stranded at the search results page or clicking on unrelated organic results? It’s impossible to say how many people found themselves in this frustrating situation. It may have been in the thousands given the campaign’s reach.

It’s not too late to salvage the search dimension of the “People-Ready” campaign. Our advice to McCann: Before Microsoft’s next TV spot or newspaper ad runs, roll up your sleeves and buy some keywords. We suggest buying all the keywords listed in Microsoft’s well-designed, well-optimized Web page, including: People Ready, people-ready, people ready, operational excellence, business relationships, customer relationships, innovation, people, business, performance, excellence, customers, partners, technology, software, empower.

Also, key Microsoft product names – including the newer Vista and the Live product line – should be purchased, each with landing pages and ad copy different than the highly ranked organic results. By doubling screen real estate, Microsoft can get the message across to the users who matter most, the interested ones who searched. Simply cancel a couple TV spots that the most tech-savvy viewers probably will skip on their TiVos or DVRs anyway.

Our hope is that oversights like this soon become a thing of the past. Traditional ad agencies need to think as carefully about search as they do about conjuring catchy slogans and executing brilliant ad campaigns. The learning curve might be steep, but if they can learn to integrate search into the foundation of their media plans, they’ll be more likely to keep demanding clients happy.

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