MSN 8 and AOL 8.0 go head-to-head

Microsoft has begun a $300m (£192m) marketing blitz for its new MSN 8 Internet access software, one day before rival America...

Microsoft has begun a $300m (£192m) marketing blitz for its new MSN 8 Internet access software, one day before rival America Online is set to launch version 8.0 of its Internet software.

Although Microsoft's media campaign will not officially begin until it launches MSN 8 on 24 October, the software giant has planned an MSN 8 event in Wisconsin, today (14 October), to show off its "superiority," while simultaneously unveiling a massive billboard in New York City's Times Square.

The media bonanza, which includes online, print, broadcast, and radio ads and runs until mid-2003, is a sign of just how serious Microsoft is about cementing its place in the ISP market. The campaign is double the amount of money Microsoft spent when it launched MSN 7 last October, according to MSN product manager Parul Shah.

The hefty investment is meant to show off what Microsoft believes is a major update to its service. "We've made some significant headway with this product," said Shah. The campaign also has another specific goal - to get users to switch ISPs.

Microsoft has just released the latest membership figures for MSN, which now claims 9 million subscriptions, up from the 8.7 million it reported in July. While reflecting steady growth, the MSN numbers pale compared to AOL's 35 million subscribers.

Microsoft hopes to change all that, however, with the "It's Better With the Butterfly" campaign, which banks on the service's butterfly logo.

The campaign aims to demonstrate how MSN 8 solves common user complaints about their ISP, offering less spam, more effective parental controls and better browsing, the company said.

Adding to the rivalry between the two ISPs, MSN is also launching a standalone version of its service with the rollout of MSN 8, Shah said, that is cheaper than AOL's offering. MSN's standalone product, which offers MSN content services but no Internet access, will be priced at $9.95 a month, compared to AOL's stand-alone service, which is $14.95 a month.

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