Microsoft Looks to Socialize Display Ads

Partners with Bazaarvoice to introduce social display ad unit this April

From the sounds of Social Media Week, everyone wants to socialize everything–possibly even capitalism itself–but on Tuesday (Feb. 14), Microsoft took aim at a more realistic target: display advertising.

The company's advertising division unveiled its own social display ad product, one seemingly heavily inspired by Facebook, which will allow brands to incorporate user-generated content like product reviews, blog posts and videos within a banner ad. The first campaigns featuring these "People Powered Stories" units are expected to launch in April, Microsoft Advertising’s general manager for display advertising experiences Jennifer Creegan told Adweek in an interview.

Microsoft is initially partnering with the social commerce company Bazaarvoice to supply user-generated product reviews and ratings but intends to add other content sources. In addition to ratings and reviews, Microsoft wants to broaden the scope of content available to embed in People Powered Stories: tweets, blog posts, discussion board comments, videos and expert reviews.

Despite any similarities to Facebook’s ad units such as Sponsored Stories (and the fact that the two companies happen to be partners), Microsoft’s new offering will not be able to pull in any Facebook content. “They’re not so interested, not that we haven’t asked,” Creegan said of Facebook.

Microsoft plans to start talking to advertisers about the unit next week, and mutual customers of Microsoft Advertising and Bazaarvoice will begin testing the product in March, said Creegan.

At least one advertiser has already started testing the product. Microsoft has kicked off a campaign aimed at college students for Windows 7 which showcases product ratings and reviews in an expandable banner. The initial test resulted in a 6.3 percent increase in purchase intent, and consumers averaged 62 seconds in time spent with the ad, Creegan said. She added that the campaign scored 23 points higher in believability and authenticity than the average high-tech digital campaign.

Brant Barton, Bazaarvoice’s cofounder and general manager of media solutions, added that shoppers who interact with a product rating or review online are more than 100 percent more likely to purchase than consumers who don’t consume that content.

While the unit will be available on all Microsoft-owned sites and sites that are part of the company’s publisher network, it will be “primarily” available to Microsoft’s premium advertisers, Creegan said. Eventually Microsoft might expand availability to nonpremium advertisers, “but right now the content exists in these signals really for those large advertisers because you have a user-generated content dependency for this to work,” said Creegan.

People Powered Stories will be available in all sizes approved by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Creegan said, and advertisers will be able to target the ads to consumers in the same way they do so with regular display ads.

Microsoft plans to expand the unit to mobile devices but doesn’t have a firm timeframe in place. Asked if the mobile rollout will happen this calendar year, Creegan said “I wouldn’t want to predict, but I wouldn’t be shocked.”