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Jan 25, 2005
Case Study

MSN Messages the World Online -- We are a Global Company

SUMMARY: Microsoft launched at least two marketing campaigns that we know of to let the world know that they are global (and not just American). Here's the behind-the-scenes story of one of them. Also includes useful tips on launching a contest to involve your brand's biggest fans (including how to handle the tidal wave of entries). Plus, click stats for contest follow-up notes:

"We can't fight an ideology with force," said William Parker, a political adviser to General James E. Cartwright, commander of U.S. Strategic Command. "We're going to have to focus a great deal of attention on engaging people in the global struggle of ideas. It will impact everything we do."

Parker, quoted in a November article in Fast Company (link below) was referring not to war, but to tactics US-based businesses can employ to increase the power of Brand America. The term refers to the image, either negative or positive, that a brand such as Nike or Coca-Cola gets from being closely associated with American culture and values.

In December, Microsoft launched a global campaign for its MSN Messenger instant messaging product, designed, we believe, to showcase its global presence and its ability to "speak the language" of its customers and users around the world - in other words, to align itself with Brand World.

The campaign, a contest, also acted as a device around which Messenger's hardest-core fans could coalesce into a real community.

"Our goals were to increase Messenger use, and also to learn more about doing a global promotion," says Mindy Leffler, Independent Contractor for Microsoft, acting as Messenger Product Manager.


The contest involved a sub-group of Messenger users who visit the ilovemessenger site.

The site is a place where true Messenger fans download background pictures and emoticons to decorate their client (what Messenger users see when they open the product, and also the interface other people see when they receive a Messenger alert).

In October of last year, MSN hosted a worldwide client-decorating contest. The prizes were similarly global: free trips from anywhere, to anywhere, in the world for two for each of the 15 country winners and the worldwide winner.

The Messenger team announced the contest via a series of banner ads, with links to a landing page where users could sign up to participate in the contest, or to receive further notices via email, Messenger alert, or cellphone text messages. More than 50% of registrants chose to receive notices via Messenger alert, with fewer than 25% choosing the cellphone text message route.

Leffler notes that the number of banner ads was limited, because they were being advertised on Microsoft network sites. "There is a lot of internal competition for those banner placements, so we knew we'd have some limitations," she says.

To enter, users could design their own graphics (in either the display picture, background, or emoticon category), and then upload them onto the contest site. Microsoft graphic designers acted as judges, using an automated ranking system for each of the three criteria: creativity, originality, and execution. The server automatically pulled up the top ranking entries in each category for tie-breaker rounds.

"The judging got tedious, but legally we had to have a human look at each one," says Leffler, adding that the automated judging support system made selecting the country finalists more manageable.

The team carefully sent entrants regular notifications along each step of the contest process. "A lot of people enter a contest and it's a bit of a black hole. They never hear who won, or if anyone won. The alerts were a way to loop people back into the process," says Leffler.

(If you have one takeaway from this Case Study, perhaps it's treating your contest entrants who may be your brand's biggest fans with extreme consideration and follow-up.)

Once 30 finalists were selected in each country (ten per category), the team alerted all participants and other registrants to go to their local country sites and vote for a country winner for each category.

The contest launched with a three-week entry period starting October 12, 2004, then a three-week Microsoft judging period, followed by a two-week country and global voting period. The country winners and overall winner were selected on December 3.


MSN measured a 26% clickthrough rate of total messages sent via email and messenger alerts to contest entrants and interested bystander opt-ins. This is an extremely high click rate as a percent of send, showing how compelling a branded contest for fans can be.

MSN's real measure of success is that more than 100,000 people worldwide voted in the country contests. "The power of global promotion is pretty strong. Any time you can get that many people from all over the world united behind one single initiative, that's pretty powerful," Leffler says.

Leffler adds that next time, she will give the Microsoft offices in other countries more time to localize banner ads and contest landing pages for the country-specific voting rounds. "We gave them two and a half weeks, but they have a lot of other promotions going on, and needed more time," she says.

She would change another thing about the timing, too. "We shouldn't have launched this during the holiday season," she says. "There was too much competition for banner ad slots on the network sites, so we didn't advertise as fully as we could have."

Another lesson was from the country-specific voting mechanism. "We could have made that easier," she says. "When people voted for just one category, they got an error message that wasn't very clear. Next time we won't force people to vote for all three categories of design, which will make it easier for them to participate. And we'll work on making our error messaging clearer."

23,583 people actually entered the contest. The top three countries represented were: 42% from Brazil 17% from Canada 13% from the US

How many people signed up for contest alerts? "More than 100% of the contest entrants, actually," says Leffler. "We expected the entrants to want to see if they had won, but what surprised us was how many other people were interested, too."

How serious is Microsoft about being seen as a global rather than US-centric company?

Well, we've heard from marketers in other Microsoft departments that they've been instructed to run global or multi-country campaigns instead of starting with the US and then rolling out to rest-of-world. Example - the Halo2 Xbox game launch this winter which launched globally using a microsite in "alien language" instead of English.

Useful Links Related to this Article:

Creative samples used in the campaign:

Messagecast, the company that broadcast the Messenger alerts, emails, and cellphone text messages:

Related MarketingSherpa article: Quick Primer -- How to Advertise on Instant Messaging Skins (Creative Samples Included; small fee for this article)

Fast Company article cited above: Brand That I Love: As global affection for American brands wanes, can business do what government can't: make Brand U.S.A. cool again?

See Also:

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