A friend of mine got the following email from MSN today:

From:Microsoft
Sent: Tuesday, March 28, 2006 3:22 PM
To:
Subject: Share the benefits of adCenter with your friends today

Dear     ,

We’re excited to recognize your participation and feedback that have helped us shape the pilot of MSN® adCenter. To thank you for using adCenter to promote your business, we’d like to offer you an exclusive opportunity to refer friends and colleagues to apply for the pilot.

In addition to an invitation into the pilot, your nominees will receive a special offer to join our complimentary campaign set-up service called QuickLaunch. This service offers the assistance of a Media Specialist, making it easier to set up campaigns, migrate and optimize current P4P campaigns, and learn how to best manage campaign performance in adCenter.

So, share the benefits of adCenter today and access your exclusive invitations.

We look forward to welcoming your friends and colleagues to MSN adCenter.

Sincerely,

The MSN adCenter team

Does this remind you of anything? Say, oh I don’t know, Gmail? Recall that Gmail generated a lot of buzz when it launched by making the beta an invitation-only affair. The hype got so out of control that people were actually putting invitations up for auction on eBay (and what’s worse, people were actually bidding for them!).

So I guess you could say kudos to MSN for trying to market AdCenter via word-of-mouth or "buzz" marketing. The problem, however, is that MSN AdCenter and Gmail are different for two primary reasons – reasons that will likely make the buzz around MSN much less significant than the Gmail phenomenon.

First of all, Gmail is a free email account. Other than being cooler than Yahoo at the moment, it isn’t something that isn’t readily available elsewhere online. MSN AdCenter, however, is a limited beta of high quality online clicks. The more people that sign up for AdCenter, the more competition for clicks, the higher advertisers must pay, and the lower the ROI for existing advertisers.

Existing advertisers no doubt comprehend this fact (especially since the margins right now are astronomically higher than those on Google or Overture). So there’s actually a strong disincentive to ‘share’ MSN with other advertisers. I suppose you could give an invitation to someone you know in a totally different vertical, but for the most part, the other folks you know that are actively engaged in online marketing are probably your competitors. Just as you wouldn’t tell a competitor about a secret keyword you’ve discovered that’s driving thousands of dollars of business to your company, you’re unlikely to send a friendly email inviting your rivals to participate on a successful network.

Of course, the flipside of this could also occur. If you’re having bad luck on MSN – and you’re a malicious person – perhaps you’d actually want to invite some of your less-likeable competitors onto MSN, just to see them burn through a lot of cash. Either way, if you assume that advertisers of a feather flock together, it seems unlikely that there would be a lot of benevolent sharing of invitations.

The second difference between MSN AdCenter and Gmail is that MSN AdCenter costs money and Gmail is free. It was nice (albeit a little spammy) to get an invitation in the early Gmail days inviting me to try out Google’s latest cool product. But getting an invitation from someone inviting me to sign up to buy advertising online? That’s a little strange. I can just imagine the boilerplate email MSN has composed: "Hi [Insert Name Here], I just spent $5000 on MSN AdCenter. You should too! Click here to provide your credit card information and get started today!"

Viral marketing works, no question. And again, I give MSN credit for thinking outside the box on this one. To be fair, they have generated a bit of buzz about AdCenter in the SEM community – everyone I meet (every SEMer, that is) always asks me if I’m in the MSN beta and whether it’s working. That being said, I’d be surprised if the ‘invite a friend’ campaign has the desired effect. Of course, if I’m wrong, I may just have to start an Amazon affiliate site and ‘invite’ my friends to purchase books from me!

Tags: MSN AdCenter, viral marketing, buzz marketing, gmail, sem, ppc, cpc

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1 Comment

  1. Jeremy Mayes March 31st, 2006

    I had more requests for invites than I had available. Gone in less than a day.

    Ever see the Southpark episode where Cartman buys an amusement park and won’t let anyone in? As people line up around the street he’s deemed a marketing genius:-)

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David Rodnitzky
David Rodnitzky is founder and CEO of 3Q Digital (formerly PPC Associates), a position he has held since the Company's inception in 2008. Prior to 3Q Digital, he held senior marketing roles at several Internet companies, including Rentals.com (2000-2001), FindLaw (2001-2004), Adteractive (2004-2006), and Mercantila (2007-2008). David currently serves on advisory boards for several companies, including Marin Software, MediaBoost, Mediacause, and a stealth travel start-up. David is a regular speaker at major digital marketing conferences and has contributed to numerous influential publications, including Venture Capital Journal, CNN Radio, Newsweek, Advertising Age, and NPR's Marketplace. David has a B.A. with honors from the University of Chicago and a J.D. with honors from the University of Iowa. In his spare time, David enjoys salmon fishing, hiking, spending time with his family, and watching the Iowa Hawkeyes, not necessarily in that order.