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MSN launches carpet-bomb campaign

Microsoft will unleash a massive promotional campaign to advertise its ISP, MSN Internet Access, that will involve direct mail to 45 million people.

Carpet-bomb, and they will come.

Or at least that's what Microsoft is counting on, as evidenced by its announcement today that it will launch a massive promotional campaign to advertise its ISP, MSN Internet Access, that will involve direct mail to 45 million people.

As previously reported, the promotion will involve a mass distribution of MSN CD-ROM software, in the spirit of America Online's infamous campaigns. It also will include print and online advertising spots.

MSN's strategy is to boost the ISP's subscriber base, though Microsoft declined to comment on any specific goals or targets. The software giant also refuses to divulge its current subscriber numbers.

But true to form, it is clear that Microsoft is setting its sights very high.

The campaign aims to attract "users with Windows 95 or Windows 98-based PCs" and "any home user planning to get online and looking for a better ISP solution," said Will Diefenbach, group product manager for MSN Internet Access.

In contrast to AOL's guerrilla-marketing tactics, which placed its software CDs in bank kiosks and cereal boxes in hopes of wooing mainstream Americans, Diefenbach said MSN plans to stick strictly to mailboxes and target its efforts mainly at computer-literate consumers.

"AOL tends to have a broad distribution strategy to get first-timers online," Diefenbach said. "Bulk distribution doesn't really cut it, and, frankly, CDs aren't cheap."

MSN's direct-mail blitzkrieg could be a much-needed shot in the arm for the ISP, which had been upstaged by Microsoft's plan to jump into the free Web-based email space. Initially launched as an online channel featuring proprietary content and services, MSN's objectives have changed dramatically. Microsoft now wants a competitive portal to take on the likes of Yahoo, Excite, and

As a result of the shift, content and services were moved out from behind MSN's firewall, leaving behind a pared-down site offering only Internet access, a free subscription to Slate, and discounts on Microsoft's investor services. Subscriber growth since has stagnated, reaching a plateau at under 2 million, according to Jupiter Communications.

The service also underwent identity changes--it first was renamed "MSN Premier," before being renamed again as "MSN Internet Access"--that likely impeded its efforts to increase brand recognition. The changes occurred when Microsoft revived the MSN by including its entire network of Web sites under the umbrella of its portal.

Today's announcement comes one day after marketing firm J.D. Power and Associates released a report ranking MSN Internet Access highest in customer satisfaction above ISP heavyweights AT&T WorldNet and EarthLink Network.

The new direct marketing campaign will last until the end of June 1999.