Following the launch of its revamped homepage preview in the UAE in early September, MSN recently held an official launch of the “new MSN” on October 22. The new MSN is built on a combination of mobile, cloud-first offering, over a 1,000 premium content partnerships globally – and a dozen locally – with the likes of the New York Times and CNN Arabic, and personal productivity tools like shopping lists, flight status and savings calculators, as well as integrated access to popular sites like Outlook.com, Office365, Facebook, Twitter, OneNote, OneDrive, and soon, Skype.
At the time of the preview launch, Communicate met with Justin Dewhirst, regional executive producer for Microsoft’s information and content experiences group in growth markets in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region, to discuss the revamped homepage’s ad opportunities. But, it was too soon of a discussion. A month in, however, Mohamed El Mehairy, managing director of Connect Ads – which is representing the platform in the region – has a clearer vision on the commercial viability of the new MSN.
“From a commercial perspective, we’ve managed to do two things in parallel; the first is to keep our best-selling ad formats in the spotlight. We also introduced another main ad product, the custom header format, which we are forecasting will replace one of our older formats in a very short time,” explains El Mehairy, adding that some “adjustments” to other ad formats on the platform had to be made to “make sure that the user experience is not distorted or harmed by them”. For instance, the “skin” format was removed to make room for the custom header, ensuring that ads that are served do not overlap or clutter the environment for both advertisers and users.
The bigger change, however, El Mehairy assures, has more to do with the overall positioning of the homepage as a starting page with customizable strips for individual users that offers quick access to social media, search and activity tools. “This allows [us] to pitch to advertisers that they can engage with target audiences in a truly integrated and seamless way,” he explains.
When asked about MSN facing up to agile giants like Google, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn aggressively growing their relationship with advertisers and agencies in the region, El Mehairy refers to Connect Ads’ previous experience in introducing Facebook to the region a couple of years back, and its current one in working with LinkedIn in Egypt, and Twitter and most recently Shazam in the UAE. “But when it comes to Microsoft, there are four components [that differentiate it],” he says. The first is the ability to have cross-screen packages for advertisers, owing to the fact that user experience on the new MSN is the same across mobile, PC and tablet. The second is a consistent ad offering and creative acceptance policy – often a disregarded, but very important element in adapting an advertiser’s campaigns across platforms and screens. The third is, as El Mehairy mentions, “a consolidated pitching process. You can in one contract buy on three completely different platforms (Microsoft’s Skype, Outlook and MSN). The fourth factor is that we focus on premium display advertising” – not to mention that the new MSN is integrating users’ social media accounts within its platform.
It’s too early to tell how the new MSN will pan out commercially in the region, but El Mehairy says that “the response has been great so far”.