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Microsoft on the War Path




The New York Times today covers Microsoft and their pending battle against Google/DoubleClick. No, not the legal mess they’ve been pursuing—the fight for advertising dollars. With aQuantive‘s and DoubleClick‘s acquisitions earlier this year, Microsoft and Google are now in direct competition in the online advertising arena.

The Times article leads with three of Microsoft’s past endeavors which have enjoyed “varying degrees of success”: Internet Explorer, Windows and the Zune. Internet Explorer sucks (just ask the 100+ people who’ve commented on that post!), Windows is okay (I don’t mind it, at least, but I haven’t “upgraded” to Vista yet), and the Zune thus far has been too little, too late. Not a precipitous way to begin discussing a new business.

Enter Brian McAndrews, former head of aQuantive and now head of their new Microsoft division, to speak to the Times about his plans to take the Web by storm:

Mr. McAndrews has a long-term strategy that boils down to divorcing online advertising from Internet searches. The two have been viewed as a couple, because so many people use portals and search engines as their home base on the Web, but Mr. McAndrews says that model shortchanges advertisers and Web publishers.

Mr. McAndrews’s proposed system, called “conversion attribution,” would track all of the online places where consumers see ads and give advertisers a fuller picture of the various ways that consumers reach them. Tracking is important, because the site that gets credit for prompting a user’s visit is the one that gets paid for it.

You know me and data; we’re likethis. While I love that the approach tries to take into account all the factors in branding and building awareness, I don’t know if it’s entirely practical. And the article makes it sound as though McAndrews has an anti-search-engine chip on his shoulder:

Mr. McAndrews contends that search engines, which long have claimed credit for sending people to companies’ Web sites, do not deserve it all.

“Google gets all the credit, and in fact, you might have just gone to Google to type in the U.R.L.,” Mr. McAndrews said, pointing out that people often search for companies’ names after seeing their ads elsewhere.

Come on, now, don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Yes, all those other advertising efforts are important (or maybe not . . . ), but Google plays an important part in the process, too. But really, SEO isn’t about ranking well for your own URL: if you’re not doing that already, something is wrong. SEO focuses more on attracting people typing in related queries. And if McAndrews wants to deny that that is a big part of advertisers’ business, well, I’d like to see some of that lovely data to back it up.

But the online advertising fight (and the article) seems to boil down to is the same old grudge match that existed before the acquisitions “shook things up.” Will the old winner keep winning? Has aQuantive already won, since it commanded nearly twice the price of DoubleClick? Or will the FTC have the final say?

  • http://blog.surehits.com Jon Kelly

    Jordan, great post. Interesting to see that this is the direction they are going The notion of advertising an “assist” has been out there for a while. I know that MSFT has been pushing it hard as part of their P+ program and it was included in all of the reports that advertisers got with that program. DoubleClick and Yahoo also use the metric. I think it has merit to an extent, it just represents a different part of the marketing cycle. I think of search as the equivalent of in-store advertising. You can have the best TV commercials (or banner ads) in the world, but if your product isn’t at eye-level (i.e. top placements on search) the consumer is going to buy somebody’s elses product.

  • http://www.wizcodersolution.com Bob

    Microsoft should get themselves involved in so many different areas. Each time they tried something, they step on someone else’s toe.

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  • Brad

    I think it’s hard for Microsoft to stay focused on new ideas when they are battling the eurotrash union who want Microsoft to give away operating system code to any so called eurodeveloper.

  • http://www.audiomecca.com/music-software/ Music Software

    The article also clearly says that this is out with Microsoft’s core competence. MS will have to depend entirely on the incoming team to handle the battle. I believe that this is good business tactics for MS.This is what capitalism is all about. The consumer stands to benefit. It will take some time, but this is likely to end up as serious case study material for business schools.