Bing’s $100 million ad buy is part of the story

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Monday’s New York Times reports that Microsoft’s re-tooled and re-branded search engine, Bing.com, has increased its “share of the search pie…slowly rising since it was unveiled on June 3.”

The article quotes StatCounter’s CEO Aodhan Cullen who compares the launch of Bing with the launch of another search engine a year ago — one that received a lot of hype because it was developed by Google veterans who raised a great deal of venture funding, Cuil.com.

Quote:

“When Cuil launched, they rocketed up 1 percent at the beginning because of all the press, but they fell right back down, because people weren’t happy with the results,” Mr. Cullen said. “We haven’t seen that happen with Bing. It’s gaining traction, and it’s not falling back down.”

First, let me be clear: I think Bing is a good search engine. I also think that any viable competition that Google receives for search is a great thing for all of us. Google’s dominant market share is not a good thing.

However, I think it might help a reader of that New York Times story to understand that Bing.com is currently being supported with an $80-$100 million advertising campaign (and believe me, this year such a budget will be sweetened with lots and lots of bonus goodies — stretching that budget considerably). Without taking into consideration the post-launch advertising support, comparing Cuil to Bing is like comparing apples to, well, cherries.

If you’ve turned on a TV or attended a movie that has pre-feature advertising or have listened to a radio or read a newsweekly magazine or visited a major website, or have seen one of these drive by, then you’ve seen a Bing ad. I attended a movie this past weekend and was subjected to what seemed like a 90-second Bing spot (I say “subjected” as I consider all pre-feature movie advertising — except for movie trailers — to be spam).

But unlike a lot of Microsoft advertising, the Bing ads are actually well done. They are witty but not meaninglessly funny (or offensively funny like a recent Microsoft online ad for Internet Explorer). The TV ads make a distinctive point that resonates with people. And the name of the product is clever and memorable (too often, I find myself forgetting what product a funny commercial is promoting; not so with these).

That $100 million advertising budget — the majority of which is going into traditional media buys — means Bing is no Cuil.

As far as I know, none of Microsoft’s competitors are currently running a major campaign: Have you seen any TV ads lately (ever?) for Google? Are Ask.com or Yahoo! search running TV schedules?

At some point, I think that in addition to improving their actual search product, Bing may end up being a good example of how a company can use a recession (when competitors have stopped advertising) to out-innovate and out-spend rivals and win marketshare; one of those truisms you used to hear back before traditional advertising was declared dead.

Sidenote: The Apple iPhone will be another poster child in the future for how to crush your competition during a recession by creating innovative products that are supported with carpet-bombing advertising.