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Microsoft Looks to Reinvent Display Ads

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After her first 100 days on the job, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of global ad sales Carolyn Everson has reached this conclusion: banner ads stink. With this in mind, she’s planning to reach out to a partner less familiar to the software/media giant -- the creative community -- for help.

Indeed, Microsoft is planning to set up a series of meetings with creative agencies and executives as part of an Everson-led effort to reinvigorate online creative and to attract more traditional brands in the process. Everson, previously COO and evp of U.S. ad sales at MTV Networks, wants to sit down with the current generation of Don Drapers and spark nothing short of a revolution.

“We have to completely reinvent display advertising,” she said. “The digital industry faces [the] challenge [of convincing advertisers] that the Internet is a good place to build a brand. That’s why I want to reach out to the creative community. That’s priority No. 1.”

Even with the increased clout that media buyers and planners have today -- and the lead role they often play in digital -- Everson believes that creative executives hold many of the keys to getting top brands to believe in the Web as they do in TV. “They have some of the biggest influence with CMOs,” she said. “They are in some ways more important today than they were in the 1950s.”

Currently, the lion's share of digital brand dollars are spent with display, argues Everson, but many brands and creative executives find the format flat and limiting. One of the ways she thinks Microsoft can sway that opinion is with Kinect, the upcoming motion-based control system for Xbox.

She plans to bring up Kinect when her teams meet with creative execs. Not to simply suggest they advertise in Xbox games (though that is certainly an option) -- but to get creatives thinking about the possibilities of interactive media beyond static banners. “Kinect could influence what display is,” she said. “I want to create that same sort of enthusiasm.”

Besides display ads, Everson has identified several other areas of focus following her three-months-plus tour of Microsoft’s offices across the globe. First, research needs to improve. Second, video needs to be sorted out, in terms of how it is sold. “Video is one of the fastest ways to get brands on board with the Web,” she said. “But there is a lack of clarity about how video fits in.”

Everson also wants to use Bing to further enhance MSN -- by having users' searches better inform what content they see featured on the site. “When a portal gets more relevant to you...that’s a power that we need to tap,” she said.