Microsoft on MSN: Try it, you'll like it

Redmond will take its message to the masses when it kicks off its $150 million relaunch of MSN services and software on Wednesday.

If you thought Microsoft Corp. chose an unconventional path by launching Windows Millennium Edition at malls across the United States, wait until you see what it does to usher in its MSN Explorer Web service and software on Wednesday.

The days of big-bang, press-oriented product launches are over for Microsoft. Instead, on Wednesday, MSN-butterfly-logo-bedecked rollerbladers will be skating around 16 cities, handing out MSN CDs and talking up Microsoft's broadband and mobile MSN services. And Microsoft will unveil details of an online contest, where the company will award 10 individuals with $10,000 worth of "tech makeover" prizes to encourage more MSN sign-ups and downloads.

On Wednesday, Microsoft officially will kick off a $150 million global advertising campaign, the goal of which is to make MSN the No. 1 Internet brand worldwide.

Meanwhile, consumer marketer extraordinaire America Online Inc. took a much more traditional path when it launched its AOL 6 product Tuesday.

Is it a case of role reversal? An up-and-comer stealing a page out of an established rival's playbook? Any way you look at it, Microsoft has decided that it needs to do a better job of reaching out to everyday consumers and is attempting to beat AOL at its own game.

"This is a crescendo for MSN. We're using this day to tell people that they should try MSN if they haven't already," said MSN Director Jay Goldstein. "And we think we need to go to the local markets and talk to people where they typically get their news."

MSN Explorer, code-named Mars, integrates a consumer-oriented Web browser, Microsoft's Windows Media Player, HotMail, and MSN Messenger instant-messenging software.

Besides delivering the final, shipping version of MSN Explorer, Microsoft will unveil new versions of MSN services, including MSN Search, MSN eShop, and MoneyCentral.

Microsoft also is unveiling new MSN distribution partnerships with H&R Block, Musicland Stores Corp., and Electronics Boutique. Like the expanded deal Microsoft announced earlier this fall with Radio Shack, the Redmond, Wash., software maker is attempting to make its MSN Explorer discs and dial-up and broadband service sign-up opportunities available via a wider range of outlets. Consumers who sign up for MSN Internet access service at one of the participating MSN partners will receive hundreds of dollars worth of credits at the participating retail outlets.


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