Aug 172009

Bing Cashback: The Ad Campaign they Should Run

Like many, I'm perplexed by Microsoft's Bing advertisements.

They will have a tough time convincing us that the Google natural search results we've relied on for years are somehow defective. That's good; it should be hard to convince people that night is day.

A much more compelling message would be:

"Shop through Bing Cashback links and save up to 50%"

"Give up your trusted resource to try ours" -- hard sell; "Save money here" -- easy sell

Our Microsoft rep came to visit earlier this month to talk about the new, better presentation of Cashback that is coming soon. The interstitial pages will vanish in the new system provided the retailer can place the Cashback promo on their site. This will take some programing by the advertisers, and whether they are willing to make the effort for a tiny program and are able to devote IT time to this pre-Q4 lock-downs remains to be seen.

As it runs now the interstitial pages depress conversion rates enough to offset some or all of the benefits of the discounts. Better presentation will help tremendously.

Essentially Bing Cashback allows retailers to use up to 75% of the money they spend on Bing advertising to subsidize discounts. Who doesn't like the idea of giving discounts without sacrificing margin? [There are interesting games to be played with the discount percentages to make sure retailers use up all of the Cashback funding available and use it as wisely as possible that I'll detail in a subsequent post.]

The point is this: to take down Google Bing doesn't need to gain a majority of the natural search traffic, they just need to gain the edge in the shopping traffic. That's where all the money is. Let Google have the money eating research traffic. If shoppers learn that they save money by shopping on Bing then the advertising dollars will follow.

And, Google remains vulnerable here. Folks at the very top of the org chart assured me that the broad match bug we identified was in fact a bug and that they would fix it, but 8 months later it hasn't been fixed. They say they've been focused on the new UI and that now they'll take a look at this, but come on folks, we're talking about one line of code. The reality is Google fears that fixing this will lead to reduced revenue at a time when their growth rate has slowed, and they're feeling the weight of unprofitable ventures like YouTube.

As it stands advertiser's ads compete with themselves for traffic, and less targeted keywords with higher bids and the wrong landing pages are served instead of exact matched keywords with better pages. Bad experience for the users, bad experience for the advertisers who end up having to bid down keywords when they shouldn't, and ultimately this may prove to be Google's Achilles heel.

The door is open for Microsoft to buy the traffic that is the life blood of their competitor in this space. Will they walk through that door?


7 Responses to "Bing Cashback: The Ad Campaign they Should Run"
Jim Novo says:
Warping natural behavior through using cash incentives is a very poor idea. Feels good in the beginning, but how are the Bing folks going to know if they are really winning the Search war? I'm sure they believe the traffic will stick when the incentives stop, but what if it doesn't? How will they know what, if anything, was actually working for them?
True, Jim. Buying traffic and keeping traffic are two different challenges. But, if I may play devil's advocate, I'd argue that in a two company duel to the death, strangling off the other firm's revenue might be a winning strategy, particularly if the strangler has other sources of revenue. Long term, Microsoft can't afford to give away 75% of its search revenue, but might they be able to do so long enough to "tap out" the reigning champ? I'm probably crazy, Google has a ton of cash, and could easily go down this same path. Maybe I played with the MMA folks for too long :-)
Marc Adelman says:
George, You mentioned, " take down Google Bing doesn’t need to gain a majority of the natural search traffic, they just need to gain the edge in the shopping traffic." I couldn't agree more. Playing the second best game is dangerous and usually unsuccessful. I know I have mentioned the book by Jim Collins "Good To Great" before, and this is one of the key principles. Be the best (#1 not #2) in the world at what you do. Google owns the current title "Best in Search". Yet "Best in Shopping" may still be up for grabs. This opportunity, as you stated. is THE open door in front of MS. Will they see it or continue to paint a door on a brick wall? If MS can create and sustain a higher quality online shopping user experience - from front to back - not just through gimmick or marketing campaign (or nice pictures on their search page), then maybe...just maybe will they stand a chance to be the title "Best in Shopping".
Well said, Marc. The thing is: "Best in Shopping" is the one to win. That's where the money is, and serving the right ad to the right user is the ultimate path to victory. Google believes it can algorithmically determine the best ad, and for firms that aren't very skilled at PPC they may be right. However, for the folks who understand the game and have the tools to play it at the highest level, the advertiser knows far better than Google's robot what ad should be served. The advertiser has the all important back end data, and knowledge of their stock positions, margin structures, and promotions. The engine that recognizes this and defers to the advertiser's choices will provide a better shopping experience. Now, whether people are willing to have a "shopping engine" and an "information engine" rather than an all-in-one solution remains to be seen.


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