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MSN ad blitz launched

Microsoft is launching a widespread advertising campaign for its MSN.com Web portal and revamping its channel dedicated to women.

Aiming to woo affluent mainstream Netizens, Microsoft launched a widespread advertising campaign for its MSN.com Web portal.

In addition, MSN's channel dedicated to women--Women Central--is getting a new look. It includes content from women.com, among other features, and is another example of the proliferation of Web sites for women.

Beginning today, advertisements began appearing on radio, in print, online, and outdoors. Radio spots have been purchased in select markets such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, Washington, and Seattle.

The campaign build offs the software giant's existing "Where do you want to go today?" slogan by placing particular emphasis on the "do." Ads target what Microsoft labels "mainstream" audiences, consisting of 30-somethings who primarily access the Internet from work, spend 13.1 hours per week online, and are likely to shop online. MSN director Marty Taucher said the company hopes to convey a message that appeals to "accomplishment-oriented users."

Taucher added that Microsoft will not purchase television air time for this campaign. "We're happy with the sustained coverage on print and online."

The campaign will last through June, and will cost $18.5 million.

The campaign marks Microsoft's first concerted initiative to thoroughly market the portal since it folded together its myriad Web properties under one MSN-branded umbrella in July 1998 and officially renamed its portal effort "MSN" in August. The site had changed names a few times to "MSN Internet Start" and "Start," for example, before MSN was adopted.

Microsoft Web sites collectively rank as one of the most-visited sites on the Web. Since naming its portal MSN--which was formerly the brand associated with its online service--Microsoft's other Web properties have been folded into the site to power its content channels, such as Hotmail, CarPoint, Expedia, MSNBC, and Sidewalk, among others.

The marketing push also comes in light of industrywide speculation that Microsoft is in talks with a number of key Web players for either an investment or an outright acquisition. The speculation arises after considerable merger activity in the Internet space, including America Online's $4.2 billion acquisition of Netscape Communications, @Home's $6.7 billion acquisition of Excite, and Yahoo's acquisition of GeoCities.

Taucher would not comment on rumors that Microsoft was in talks with Lycos, but added there was "nothing specific cooking today."

"We look for opportunities to complement our Web offerings," Taucher added.

Meanwhile, the revamped new women's site melds popular features from Women.com, which merged last month with Hearst Corporation's HomeArts.com. The one-stop resource for women also features information on family, fitness and health, and expert advice for daily living.

In a sign that companies are increasingly recognizing the potential of women's sites, Unilever PLC, the world's largest consumer products company, signed a multimillion dollar premier sponsorship for the new site.

According to a fall 1998 study by Jupiter Communications, more than 45 million women are currently online, with 65 million expected to be online by 2002.

"The launch of WomenCentral reinforces two very important themes for MSN: consumers and business relationships," said Laura Jennings, vice president of MSN, in a statement.

Reuters contributed to this story.