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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

MSN AdCenter Canada Launch: Where's Barry?

It's an inconvenient truth: Canada's online ad market is 10-15% of the US market, give or take. Inside that market, Microsoft has around 10% share of search referrals, on a good day. Also, Canadian marketers are more reluctant to spend and experiment online. So the amount of attention that a marketer with a pan-North-American focus might pay to Google AdWords in the U.S. as compared with MSN adCenter in Canada would, if we're going by associated dollar spend... if you have the math right, it should be a ratio of about 50:1. Throw in a little ADD, and you're talking 100:1.

So I suppose that's why a really big (and quite fun) Microsoft launch event today seemed strangely out of sync with reality.

While MSN aDcEnTer Canada (heretofore to be called microsoft adcentre, eh) had its Kevin Lee, it didn't have its Barry Schwartz. Please tell me I'm not the first to blog about this? I know some folks at the 400-attendees-strong Canada launch of MSN adCenter today were snapping the usual photos, but I don't see much live-blogging-chatter out there yet.

Maybe this is because it just isn't a big deal, in the sense that "you're getting to discover it much as we did several months ago in the States," as one speaker put it. Yawn?

However, it felt like it was supposed to be a big deal. Tony Robbins jumping up and down big. Steve Jobs dwarfed by a giant phone image big. Or maybe just, "thanks for acknowledging our country" big. Fair enuff.

We were wooed by a mysterious email and a fancy flash invite at a URL called thesearchisover.ca, followed by a collection of cookie-tin type boxes in the mail, containing a USB flash card, redundantly inviting people again but arriving after the RSVP deadline. Somehow, we managed to decipher it and show up, even without Ms. Dewey's help.

Entering the facility (Muzik nightclub at Exhibition Place) after dispatching the valet parking formalities, we encountered much signage, eventually making our way through the cavernous club towards the large hall. The light and sound show was louder than, say, Yahoo's recent Canada launch. It felt positively Ballmeresque -- though we were really just getting glorified Powerpoint.

Oddly, a business professor from UWO Ivey acted as the MC for the event. Some Microsoft folks spoke onstage about how excited they were. Quite a contingent from the Redmond and New York MSN offices were on hand too. And Did-It's Kevin Lee gave the most detailed presentation extolling the virtues of the adCenter platform.

Nothing new to see, but a reminder that yes, the platform does allow for some cool experimentation, segmentation, and learning.

Practically speaking, combining Microsoft's third-place status in search referrals with Canada's lower overall search volume (10-20% of the US market depending on the vertical), it's actually a pretty tough sell. Low volume search in a low volume place. To make it as clear as I can, if we were focusing just on Canada, we'd generally be looking at some pretty low-volume campaigns. Not only that, but as Martin Byrne over at YSM Canada reminds us, "search isn't sexy." (Even when you have Sam Roberts playing at the event.)

There will be writeups in the media, of course. I hope observers understand the importance of the paid search part of the market in general, but I also hope they get the market share numbers right. I believe at least a couple of the reporters out there are savvy enough to look at their own media companies' in-house search referral stats. That should put the story in perspective. Microsoft is in third place, no matter how hard you try to Sympatico up the story.

A glossy, impressive third place - well ahead of the also-rans - and definitely diverse and part of a very large company. But - still behind Yahoo, and those other guys.

A deeper explanation and visuals around, say, geotargeting, would have been time and cash better spent than the Star Trek intro imagery. Or maybe dull old Al Gore up there with a graph or two. Boring works nowadays. See: Oscar Night, 2007.

Speaking of local search in Canada, there is a steady stream of news on that front. There are several developments brewing, including the imminent launch of RedToronto's new brand (and new product and totally new approach to local search). I think I can tell you it's an offshoot of their merger with Zip411 and that it will be called Zip Something-or-Other. Some interesting ideas percolating there!

Also, Hyperlocal Media - which has launched with a couple of successful pilot sites including one in Brooklyn, is launching a Toronto site, Until Monday Toronto.

Whoops -- wasn't I supposed to be talking about Microsoft?

Points for trying - very hard. You have to hand it to whoever thought of offering blue drinks dubbed the "Microsoft Conversion." Talk about a double entendre. It wasn't a religious experience for me personally, as I opted for a Heineken. But I do in fact accept the premise that Microsoft paid traffic converts very well. The data never lie.

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