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Can you really advertise for a search engine? Ask Bing.

By Matthew Shaer / June 3, 2009

Today, Microsoft launches a big ad campaign to promote its Bing search engine. This video hypes Bing's ability to cut through the clutter of the Internet.

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Just two days after Microsoft pushed its Bing search engine live, the software giant unveiled a major multimedia advertising campaign, comprised of banner ads, video spots, and interactive displays on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Although Microsoft hasn't publicly disclosed the exact cost of the campaign, Advertising Age estimated the figure to be roughly $80 to $100 million. In late May, Ad Age reporter Abbey Klaassen called it a "big campaign":

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....big compared with consumer-product launches ($50 million is considered a sizable budget for a national rollout) and very big when you consider that Google spent about $25 million on all its advertising last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence, with about $11.6 million of that focused on recruiting. Microsoft, by comparison, spent $361 million. Certainly Google has never faced an ad assault of anything like this magnitude.

A lost cause?

This May, Google rolled out its first-ever TV spot. But that advert was not designed to draw attention to Google's search tool, which already dominates the market, and has for several years. Instead, it hyped up the Google Chrome, a sleek, next-gen browser, chock full of helpful shortcuts and bookmarking technology. The Bing campaign, on the other hand, is designed to do the close-to-impossible: unseat Google as the search tool of choice.

It's an uphill battle: Google has already won the allegiance of a majority of Web users, as I wrote last year, and the company name is synonymous in mainstream culture with online search. We "Google" the nearest restaurant, and we "Google" our favorite musicians. It will be difficult to get a sizable swath of web users to start "Binging" the show times for the new "Star Trek" flick, for instance. Here's Robert Evans, on I4U News:

If Bing is to have even the slightest hope of unseating Google, it is going to need to be truly exceptional. Most users consider Google synonymous with 'search engine', and don't even think that they are using a product whenever they type "www.Google.com" into their browser. Google is ubiquitous. Even with a massive ad campaign, it's going to be an uphill battle for Bing.

Flood the zone

Microsoft is betting that Bing will be "exceptional." But it's not taking any chances. The new ad campaign will flood websites across the country, and the video spot touts Bing's ability to cut through the clutter of the web.

Still, a huge question remains: Can you really advertise for a simple function like search? Google didn't exactly buy millions of dollars of TV time when it trotted out its groundbreaking engine. Instead, it trusted that it had a superior product, and let fans do the heavy lifting. It was smitten users that spread the gospel – and it was smitten users that pushed Google to the top of the heap.

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