By Brian Morrissey
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer came to Cannes with a message for advertisers: It's committed to the advertising space.
Ballmer outlined his vision of the future of advertising, running through familiar themes that media would become digital, advertising more targeted and content spread across many devices. Microsoft, which generates about $2 billion of its $60 billion of revenue from advertising (and is the sponsoring Adweek's Cannes coverage on this site this year), plans to play a major role in providing the tools to run campaigns, selling ads on its sites and others and building a credible alternative to Google in Internet search.
For all its advancement, the Internet ad industry is still immature, Ballmer said. "Once you get past the Google search site, you say, 'Is there a publisher making a lot of money with an advertising- or fee-based model?' The answer is no," he said. "We have to ask who will be creating the content."
Microsoft recently rolled out its latest attack on Google, a new search engine called Bing. Early traffic reports show that Bing's estimated $80-100 million ad campaign is getting many people to try the service, although Ballmer, in a Q&A following his presentation, said it was too early to judge it a success. Advertisers are rooting for Microsoft, he said, because the market could use more competition. "The buzz has been pretty good," he said. "I think a lot of people agree we're showing a different point of view."
As for the notion of acquiring Yahoo!, Ballmer stuck to his position that Microsoft isn't interested in swallowing the company whole but was interested in striking a search deal. Such an agreement would give Microsoft enough scale to offer advertisers a reason to place their bids in both ad systems. Meanwhile, Bing will push advancements beyond "10 blue links" to include natural language search and other features. "We think there's room for innovation left in that area," Ballmer said.