Microsoft hires JWT for $100m search engine launch

LONDON - Microsoft has appointed JWT to an estimated $100m campaign to launch its Kumo search engine and win market share away from Yahoo! and Google.

This spring Microsoft plans the launch of its new search product, tentatively called Kumo, and has trusted JWT with the difficult task of convincing web users that Kumo is not only different, but better than market giant Google and number-two Yahoo!.

JWT, part of WPP Group, is expected to push Kumo in June in an online, TV, print and radio campaign.

Analysts predict JWT will position Microsoft's Kumo away from direct competition with Google and Yahoo! and instead try and carve out a niche within the search engine market.

In an internal memo, Microsoft's head of search Satya Nadella asked employees to put Kumo through its paces and give back any necessary feedback.

Early screenshots of Kumo, which were included in the memo, appear to be standard search engine fare, with web, image, video and results and sponsored ads along the sides.

On the left side, the nature of the search query seems to change the resulting menu screen. For example, searching for an Audi S8 allows users to filter automatically through tags such as parts, used, accessories and sale, while a search for musicians, such as Taylor Swift, brings tags such as songs, lyrics, biography and albums.

Analysts agree that JWT faces an uphill battle, especially as Microsoft's current offering Live Search makes up a measly 8% of the market, compared to Google's 60% and Yahoo!'s 20%.

However, it seems Microsoft is serious about turning Kumo into a contender, recently ending its Encarta encyclopaedia service in a move that suggests it is funnelling its resources behind the search engine's launch.

The marketing task sees JWT build on its existing relationship with Microsoft. The agency won Microsoft's global B2B account last summer, beating a number of agencies, including incumbent McCann Erickson.

That brief, worth a reported $150m, resulted in the 'Because it's everybody's business' TV and print campaign highlighting Microsoft's business products.

Microsoft kept McCann on the roster, but has further diversified its roster with other agencies, including Crispin Porter + Bogusky, which recently launched a PC v Mac rebuttle, highlighting Microsoft's thrift-factor.

Crispin also developed the ad campaign starring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld, which was met with a hostile reception and critically panned across the blogosphere.