Is the Microsoft Multimedia Ads Format for You?

Is the Microsoft Multimedia Ads Format for You?

Advertising Bing Microsoft

Microsoft Advertising recently launched a beta version of a new ad format, Multimedia Ads, that seeks to make ads in search results more visually appealing. This could be a useful format for lifestyle brands (especially smaller ones) that rely on the power of images to make their products. It’s also important that Microsoft Advertising clients pay close attention to how Microsoft is rolling out the feature.

What Is the Multimedia Ads Format?

The Multimedia Ads format consists of image-rich ads that appear on search results pages. With this ad format, Microsoft uses machine learning to suggest to advertisers the optimal combination of their own images, body, copy, and headlines for searches occurring on Bing. If you lack visual assets, Microsoft will auto-create them. (This is an approach similar to Google’s.) As reported in Search Engine Land,

The recommendations will use AI to speed up the launch of Multimedia Ads for your brand. If you’re not interested, you’ll have seven days to apply or dismiss recommendations. If you don’t choose either, they’ll be automatically applied. “You can also opt out of the auto-apply functionality at the account level,” according to the announcement blog.

Here’s how Microsoft explains auto-apply on its campaigns dashboard:

Multimedia Ads scree

Considerations to Keep in Mind about Multimedia Ads

Now, this ad format could be appealing to a business that lacks the time and resources to create a campaign – say, a small mom-and-pop business. And the visual format could be really appealing for brands in industries such as travel and hospitality, where images are even more important. Multimedia Ads gives such a business the means to vary their ads so long as the business does not mind giving up control to Microsoft’s AI engine to do all the heavy lifting. But as Search Engine Land notes, “The auto-recommendations mean advertisers will have to be on the lookout to make sure any tests or ads they’re launching don’t end up going in a direction they don’t want.”

In other words, the feature could create more work for a business.

Here are some caveats we have noticed as well:

It’s important that Microsoft clients check their campaigns dashboards. We have discovered instances where Microsoft activated the ad format automatically for a given campaign. It’s up to the Microsoft Advertising client to proactively uncheck the “auto-apply recommendations” features boxes (see the bottom of the image below – and note that we unchecked auto-apply recommendations):

Multimedia Ads campaign screen

In fairness, we should note that Google has also used the approach of automatically applying features to its advertising products, thus putting the burden on the client to disable a feature.

You might not like the images that Microsoft suggests. Microsoft might suggest generic and uncompelling stock images with its AI. We much prefer manually uploading our own images, where we have more control over their quality.

You might not like the ad copy that Microsoft suggests. Microsoft’s AI engine draws from past copy of yours to create new copy. But what worked for a previous ad might not apply to the one you want to run. If you carefully manage the tone of your ad copy, then the AI-generated recommendations might not be for you.

The format could make it more difficult for you to do A/B testing, as well.

Bottom line:

  • Multimedia Ads is a step in the right direction because Microsoft Advertising is dialing up the power of images during the visual age.
  • Microsoft still has work to do with the quality of the images its AI engine suggests.
  • Microsoft Advertising clients should review their campaign dashboards and uncheck the “auto-apply recommendations” options if you are not ready to use the ad format.
  • Whether you use the ad format’s AI features depends on how much control you want to hand over to Microsoft Advertising.
  • Consider using the feature but without the AI-generated recommendations.

Contact True Interactive

To make online advertising, including Microsoft Advertising, succeed for you, contact True Interactive. We help clients across multiple industries succeed online.

Photo by Afif Kusuma on Unsplash

Why Microsoft Wants to Buy TikTok

Why Microsoft Wants to Buy TikTok

Microsoft

A couple of months ago, I mentioned on our blog that dark clouds were on the horizon for TikTok because of lingering concerns over the app’s security. Those dark clouds are here. On July 31, President Trump said he planned to ban the app in the United States because the U.S. government is concerned that TikTok poses a national security risk. TikTok’s detractors say that the popular app, owned by China-based Bytedance, could have personal data from its American users fall into the hands of the Communist Chinese government – a form of foreign espionage. But just as the issue reaching a crisis point, on August 2, Microsoft confirmed a rumor that it intends to buy the U.S. operations of TikTok. President Trump gave Microsoft and TikTok until September 15 to work out a deal, which would pave the way for TikTok to have a future in the United States. The drama is intriguing especially to the many businesses that have a presence on TikTok either through organic content or advertising. In addition, TikTok stakeholders are asking: What does Microsoft get out of buying TikTok and taking on the headaches of securing user data? Here are two reasons why:

1 TikTok Gives Microsoft a Social Media Card to Play Against Big Tech

Google has YouTube. Facebook has Instagram (and many other cash cows). But Microsoft lacks a go-to social app on which to build an advertising business. And this is a major drawback especially in 2020 as social media usage surges. Facebook’s recent quarterly earnings announcement underscored this reality: with people turning online for safer ways to pass the time during the COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook’s monthly average users across all its apps has risen to 3 billion. Microsoft is missing out on a consumer-focused social app. True, Microsoft owns LinkedIn, but LinkedIn is not a business-to-consumer ad powerhouse. TikTok gives Microsoft an instant platform.

Granted, TikTok is still in the early stages of earning revenue from advertising and in-app purchases. And the app shows promise as well as challenges. According to the Financial Times, one 24-hour TikTok campaign ran by Guess logged a CTR of 16% compared to a 4% average. Kroger, which ran a #TransformUrDorm challenge, attracted close to 477 million views across hundreds of videos over the course of approximately one week. But in November 2019, The Verge said TikTok ads were the Wild West. Self-serve ads on the platform deliver CPM of $10 (compared negatively to Instagram’s $8).

TikTok has plenty of room to grow, and Microsoft sees the potential. If TikTok were fully developed as an advertising powerhouse, it’s possible the U.S. assets would have been too expensive to buy – so now is the right time to make a deal.

It’s all about Gen Z

Microsoft has been trying to build a presence with the surging Gen Z population for the past few years, and with good reason: Gen Z is set to overtake Millennials as the largest age cohort in the United States. Thus far, Microsoft has relied on gaming to connect with Gen Z, as witnessed by its development of Xbox, a Gen Z favorite. TikTok gives Microsoft another powerful way to connect with Gen Z: 60 percent of TikTok users are Gen Zers. TikTok also gives Microsoft a way to cross-promote Gen Z friendly products such as Xbox. As The Verge notes:

Microsoft could take advantage of that direct access to TikTok users with ads for Surface, Xbox, and other products, or even as another base for its game-streaming ambitions. Google is planning to leverage YouTube to integrate its Stadia streaming service, and TikTok would give Microsoft a response with xCloud game streaming. Microsoft had been planning to use Mixer for Xbox game streaming, but the service never gained enough traction, and the company was forced to strike a deal with Facebook for xCloud integration instead. It’s not hard to imagine watching a Call of Duty video on TikTok and then being able to click and instantly play the game as it streams to your phone via Microsoft’s xCloud service.

Microsoft, in addition, could reap the benefits of revenue gained when businesses tap into TikTok to advertise to Gen Z, as well – something that businesses might be reluctant to do while TikTok’s future remains in limbo.

What’s Next?

In addition to giving Microsoft and TikTok a deadline of September 15 to work out a deal, President Trump has said the U.S. government should get a financial cut of the transaction, which complicates an already tricky process. Microsoft is taking on a risk with this political hot potato, to be sure. The company has put its reputation on the line by stating that it will “ensure that all private data of TikTok’s American users is transferred to and remains in the United States.” But there is also potentially strong reward for Microsoft. With an American owner, TikTok may become a more attractive place for American businesses to build their brands with advertising and other forms of activity that would enrich Microsoft’s bottom line.

Meanwhile, as if to underline TikTok’s importance, Instagram launched on August 5 a feature, Instagram Reels, that competes directly with TikTok. Instagram Reels benefits from Instagram’s cachet and Facebook’s muscle. The pressure is on for Microsoft to land the TikTok deal.

To learn more about TikTok, check out this treasure trove of statistics.

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To learn more about how to build your own brand on the digital world, contact True Interactive.

Advertiser Q&A: Microsoft Digital Marketing Center

Advertiser Q&A: Microsoft Digital Marketing Center

Advertising Microsoft

Microsoft has been in the news lately. The tech company has expanded its Microsoft Digital Marketing Center, which provides small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) with a central site on which they can manage, online, both advertising campaigns and organic content. Read on to learn more about the Microsoft Digital Marketing Center and what it might offer your brand.

What is the Microsoft Digital Marketing Center?

The Microsoft Digital Marketing Center is a product from the company’s experimental project lab, Microsoft Garage. When it came onto the scene in October 2019, it empowered SMBs to use one interface to manage digital campaigns across multiple networks, from Microsoft to Google and Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. In late June 2020, Microsoft announced a major expansion of the product, with additional features such as:

  • Social management inbox, which serves as a central hub for managing likes, direct messages, and replies on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
  • Image ad suggestion, which allows brands to easily create their own effective image ads by choosing from suggested ads.
  • Improved tools for ads, such as a field for an extra headline. The benefit? Advertisers can include more information in their ads and subsequently enhance location targeting.
  • The ability to appeal disapproved ads from Bing and Facebook.
  • A new home page experience that combines social and ad metrics into one user-friendly dashboard view.
  • Twitter support, which is now enabled.

Who is the target audience?

SMBs are the target market. SMBs have captured even more attention during the COVID-19 pandemic. As McKinsey points out, SMBs face an even tougher road to economic recovery. They need all the help they can get.

Who are Microsoft Digital Marketing Center’s competitors?

Microsoft Digital Marketing Center is competing with platforms such as:

  • HubSpot, which is already positioned as a one-stop shop for SMBs. Though Microsoft Digital Marketing Center doesn’t have all the CRM features of a HubSpot, it brings its own advantages to the table. (It’s currently free, for one thing.)
  • Google, to some degree. As Search Engine Land explains, “Similar to Google Smart campaigns, which aim to simplify campaign set up and management for SMBs, Digital Marketing Center uses Microsoft AI to power ad keyword and audience targeting and bidding.”

But Digital Marketing Center gives customers more autonomy. Advertisers can build their own ads. They can also use automated ad copy or modify auto-suggestions.

Why did Microsoft launch this product?

Microsoft probably launched Digital Marketing Center to gain a toehold with the market of small-to-medium-sized businesses, which have more aggressively embraced digital advertising to acquire customers amid the spread of COVID-19. And as noted above, they are not alone in their efforts to win the hearts of this group.

What should I do next?

If you are interested in trialing the Digital Marketing Center, start here. The beta is open to U.S. businesses only at this point.

Is there a “gotcha”?

As with many free products, be aware that you get what you pay for. Digital Marketing Center is totally self-service: you’ll be on your own in managing this tool. In short, it invites self-sufficiency! Also, just because it’s free now doesn’t mean the features will remain free.

Contact True Interactive

Do you want to learn more about the Digital Marketing Center and what it might offer your business? Contact us. We can help.

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash