U.S. News

Searching For Bing? It’ll Be Baked Into TV, Online Fare

Stuart Elliott|The New York Times

In seeking to make the new search engine Bing as much a part of the popular culture as “bada bing,” Bing Crosby or Stanley Bing, Microsoft is buying prominent placement for bing.com inside television shows and the online video hub Hulu.

Source: Bing.com

The effort to weave advertising for Bing into content, known as branded entertainment, is intended to complement an elaborate traditional campaign, which began on Wednesday with commercials created by the JWT unit of WPP.

The Microsoft Corporation is estimated to be spending $80 million to $100 million on ads to help establish Bing as a viable alternative to the 800-pound gorilla of search, Google . It is the most recent of several attempts by Microsoft — all flops — to become a significant factor in search, where ad spending has held up better than in most other media.

“It’s a very tall marketing challenge and a very tall product challenge,” acknowledged Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president for the online services division of Microsoft in Redmond, Wash.

“It’s going to take multiple steps to get where we want to go,” he added, “and this is the first step.”

Bing has two goals, Mr. Mehdi said: “Win a fan base and start to grow share.” The latter refers to the fact that “every other provider” of search-engine services “has lost market share in the last five years,” he added, “except for the leader” — that being, of course, google.com from Google.

“The key will be whether we deliver a product and connect with people emotionally in the advertising,” Mr. Mehdi said. To achieve the second point, “you have to do something a little bit more surprising,” he added.

First up is a program-style commercial on Hulu, scheduled for 8 p.m. (Eastern time) on Monday. The hourlong spiel, a first for Hulu, is being styled like a telethon and carries the title “Bing-a-thon.” It was developed for Microsoft by the Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles.

The cast of the faux show on Hulu — a joint venture of the NBC Universal division of General Electric and the News Corporation — will include Jason Sudeikis of “Saturday Night Live,” Olivia Munn of the G4 cable channel and the comedian Fred Willard.

Those Hulu users who watch the “Bing-a-thon” will receive a reward: the ability to watch TV shows or movies on hulu.com without commercial interruptions. (Yes, you have to watch a commercial to avoid watching other commercials.)

After that will come integrations of Bing into shows on networks that are part of NBC Universal as well as on cable channels that are units of the MTV Networks division of Viacom.

The NBC Universal networks include NBC, with segments on “Late Show With Jimmy Fallon,” beginning next Friday, and integrations of Bing into episodes of a summer series, “The Philanthropist,” which starts on June 24.

As a seller of technology products and services, Microsoft “is in a highly competitive space,” said Ben Silverman, co-chairman at the NBC Entertainment unit of NBC Universal in Los Angeles, so it needs “innovation marketing” to break through the clutter.

For instance, the segments on “Late Show” will present Mr. Fallon as a quiz master, asking contestants to use bing.com to search for answers to questions in categories like travel, health and shopping.

“ ‘Bing’ sounds like a Jimmy Fallon word,” Mr. Silverman said, laughing. “The alignment is great.”

On “The Philanthropist,” in which James Purefoy portrays a globetrotting do-gooder, the Bing Maps feature will establish where in the world the character is; other characters will use bing.com to seek information.

And viewers will be prompted as commercial breaks begin to visit bing.com to learn more about subjects discussed during “The Philanthropist,” scheduled to run for eight episodes (which makes it, in the vocabulary of the drum-beating Mr. Silverman, “a summer maxi-series”).

The sponsorship deal with MTV Networks is to start on Thursday on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” on Comedy Central, and continue through June 17 on “Top 20 Countdown” on CMT, “The George Lopez Show” on Nick at Nite, “Charm School” on VH1 and “Real World — Road Rules Challenge Duel II Reunion Special” on MTV.

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The Bing sponsorship will be centered on offering viewers about two minutes of additional content for each show by reducing the number of commercials. (Advertisers like Philips have done that before, enabling programs like “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams” to report more news.)

The MTV Networks shows will carry a Bing spot, created by JWT, called “Fast Forward,” which looks like viewers are using the fast-forward feature on a DVR or VCR to zip through 2 1/2 minutes of commercials in 30 seconds. The intended message is that bing.com is about “getting what you want,” the spot declares.

“What’s great about ‘Fast Forward’ is that it flips traditional TV advertising on its head,” Judy McGrath, chairwoman and chief executive at MTV Networks in New York, wrote in an e-mail message, “to the benefit of the marketer and the consumer.”

“We’re delivering stronger exposure for the brand,” she added, “and more show for the fan.”

The risk with all branded entertainment is that it comes across to consumers as too much brand and not enough entertainment.

In searching for ways to be “baked into the shows,” said Eric Hadley, general manager of worldwide marketing for search and MSN at Microsoft, the goal must be to get consumers to “say ‘Oh, wow’ ” and not “ ‘That’s it?’ ”