Search Sets Viral Story in Motion
Search, in conjunction with agency 42 Entertainment,
has begun a viral campaign for its new search engine
targeting mainstream consumers.
So far, "MSN Found" has generated mostly negative
buzz in the blogosphere. While that's not necessarily
an indicator of its potential with its target market
of mainstream Web users, most viral campaigns rely on
blogs -- typically run by more techie early adopters
-- to raise awareness.
The effort centers on a site at msnfound.com, which
introduces a cast of six fictional characters in their
mid-20s. These made-up MSN users maintain blog-like
online journals, providing links to searches on their
interests and to videos. There's Reggie, a London DJ;
Tad, the Venice, Calif. Surfer dude; Karen, the Bichon
dog breeder; Swing, the Tokyo hotel concierge; Cy, the
Chicago-based conspiracy theorist; and Denise, the Brooklyn
MSN wouldn't comment on the campaign other than to acknowledge
it was behind the effort, but it did issue a brief statement
saying "Found" helps users find more of the
unique content on the Web, as does MSN Search.
"There is a lot of great content to be found out
on the Web," a spokesperson said.
The blogs' content, which so far consists of two dated
entries, is somewhat cryptic. The characters reference
one another offhand, but it's unclear what the relationships
between them are. If the campaign is anything like another
Microsoft/42 Entertainment collaboration, the iLoveBees
promotion for Halo 2, the aim is to weave an ongoing
tale designed to evoke and reward curiosity.
Search boxes at the top of each blog and calls to action
within the videos encourage users to search on specific
terms on MSN Search. These include "hypnodragon,"
"blubber blowout," "psycho kitty,"
"lava boy" and "Judo jealousy,"
along with others that relate more directly to the characters.
When users search these terms, they get clues about
each personality. Search "Tad Diddy Reese dates,"
for example, and the results page displays a picture
of Tad and some text describing how financial issues
drove he and his ex-girlfriend, Jan, apart. Some of
the pictures link back to the blogs, while others link
to video content.
Each page with video content has a "forward to
a friend" feature letting viewers send a search
query link to as many as 10 recipients. The e-mail says
"Your friend [name here] just watched this very
cool video. Now it's your turn. More FOUND videos are
waiting for you at www.msnfound.com."
Viewers eager to further engage the characters can e-mail
them. A response from Tad reads: "Be sure to come
back next Friday, I'm going to put up the sickest surf
footage you've ever seen. I mean, it's some seriously
crazy stuff.... p.s. I've got a new design up on the
site, feel free to grab it and use it however you want.
Slap it on a board, a tee whatever."
Interestingly, the company did not use its own MSN Spaces
blogging tool for these journal sites. It also declined
to make videos downloadable, and the blogs don't have
RSS feeds -- characteristics many feel are important
to encourage the viral spread of campaigns.
The effort has been widely panned by bloggers, some
of whom dislike the concept of a fake Web log and others
of whom simply find the concept confusing. Even Microsoft's
own uber-blogger, Robert Scoble, criticized the campaign
on his blog. Scoble described a conversation with an
unnamed co-worker in which the person complained of
having done a "fun site" that no one was linking
"So, let me get this straight," Scoble posted.
"You don't have RSS feeds. That means I won't be
able to build a relationship with this site. You have
a fake site so even if I tell my readers to visit it
they'll get there and feel dirty (and they can't interact
or do anything there either). You won't let me download
the videos to pass them around virally. Or remix them
in fun ways....Oh, and there's no permalinks so even
if I wanted to link you directly to a piece of content
there I couldn't."
Scoble said the co-worker defended the effort by saying
the campaign was meant for "non-geeks."
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