In Search of Market Share, Bing Taps Jay-Z and Other A-Listers

Promotional tactics different than the Google way

By Mac Montandon
|  Thursday, Nov 11, 2010  |  Updated 9:13 AM EDT
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<a title=Jay-Z gives an exclusive sneak peek at the scavenger hunt promoting his new memoir. The game invites fans to answer questions about his lyrics online, then find pages of the book in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and London. The hip-hop mogul was celebrating the book's release last night at The Delano Hotel in South Beach." />

Stacy Russell/NITESIDE

Jay-Z gives an exclusive sneak peek at the scavenger hunt promoting his new memoir. The game invites fans to answer questions about his lyrics online, then find pages of the book in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and London. The hip-hop mogul was celebrating the book's release last night at The Delano Hotel in South Beach.

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If the first celebrity that leaps to mind when you hear the word "Bing" is the guy who sang "White Christmas," you probably aren't alone. But that might not be the case for long.

Microsoft, the tech giant behind the search engine Bing has recently forged relationships with several high-profile stars as part of its ongoing effort to chip away at the search dominance of Google. (Microsoft and NBC, it should be noted, jointly own and operate MSNBC.com.)

Last month, Bing unveiled an ambitious campaign to promote Jay-Z's memoir, "Decoded," which is out next week. The company, working with the ad agency Droga5, created a contest wherein fans can search for pages of the book both in the physical world -- on billboards, bus stops and even at the bottom of a Miami pool -- and in a virtual gaming landscape online.

By locating a page and then texting in an embedded code, eager readers were entered to win prizes, including the biggest one of all: two tickets to see Jay-Z and Coldplay perform live in Vegas on New Year's Eve.

"People are interested in his life and his music," Bing's general manager of marketing, Eric Hadley, said of their decision to work with Jay-Z. "And he has a great story to tell."

In helping tell it,  the search business hopes to also drive web-users to Bing. That's something its been quite good at, (with the help of  an out-of-the-gate ad effort pegged at between $80 million and $100 million by Advertising Age), since launching in May of 2009. According to Nielsen, Bing recently overtook Yahoo as the second most popular online search source, netting 13.9 percent of users versus 13.1 for Yahoo. (ComScore, another Internet tracking company, says Yahoo remains in second place.) Both firms are, of course, well behind Google, which accounts for about 65 percent of searches.

Bing learned early on that Hollywood can be handy in gaining traction. Soon after debuting, the company produced a live, hour-long spot hosted by "Daily Show" correspondent Olivia Munn and "Saturday Night Live" star Jason Sudeikis that was shown on Hulu. Subsequent sponsorship deals with stars ranging from Katy Perry to LeBron James have greatly increased brand awareness, Hadley said.

"We're finding interesting personalities and connecting the Bing brand to them in unique ways," said Hadley.

Hoping to close the gap with the Mountain View monster that is Google, Bing is now turning to Team Coco for assistance. The New York Times reported last week that Bing will be featured on an episode of Conan O'Brien's new TBS show at the end of November. Microsoft joins the likes of AT&T and General Motors in rushing to embrace O'Brien's return to the small screen.

“We know Conan has a passionate following," Daryl Evans, a vice president for consumer advertising and marketing communications with AT&T, told the Times. "And [we] wanted to tap into that.”

So does Bing. If nothing else, all this promotional canoodling with celebrities will set the searching newbie apart from the company it is chasing. Google grew rapidly by making superior products and then letting virtual word of mouth do much of the rest of the work.

"We can't go head on with Google, it's too big of a battle," Hadley said.

By aligning itself with pop culture stars like Jay-Z and Conan O'Brien, Bing is wooing young web users. They are the ones, after all, who will be searching for information well into the future.

Selected Reading: The New York Times, All Things D, Billboard.com

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