Microsoft is reportedly spending about $100 million (a low estimate, an industry source tells me) marketing Bing, the only formidable competitor to Google left in the search-engine game. Loads of that cash is heading toward the myriad "search overload" commercials you've likely seen. The company also invested tons in a generous cashback rewards program. It launched innovative advertising partnerships with Jay-Z  and the Sundance Film Festival . And on Monday, Microsoft announced that it's teaming with ESPN for a feature football series leading up to the Super Bowl.
What kind of return is Microsoft seeing on its investment? Are the millions of marketing dollars having an impact on Bing's success?
According to reports, Bing's market share has been steadily growing. Experian Hitwise says Bing's searches increased 5% last month, with Bing-powered searches now accounting for nearly 26% of the market (that's counting Yahoo, which uses Bing's tech; comScore has the two combined totals at 28%). Year-over-year growth rate in December was 49.4%, according to Barclays , compared with just 20.6% for Google.
"Our marketing campaigns are designed to market parts of Bing, such as Bing Entertainment at Sundance, or our football campaign, which highlights a lot of our sports features," says Lisa Gurry, director of Bing. "We're seeing increased perception and advocacy, which is driving our market share."
Microsoft has made sports marketing a major focus of its campaign. According to comScore, which tracks Internet usage of 50 million-plus football fans, Bing's traffic from these fans has shot up 17% in recent months. Comparatively, Google's share rose 2%. Average daily visitors and total page views during this time also increased 14% and 13%, respectively.
"We did a similar program for the World Cup called 'I Scored A Goal,'" says ESPN rep Amy Phillips. That soccer campaign helped boost Bing awareness by 18%, and positioned the brand as the "decision engine." "Bing liked the idea of original content, and ESPN began conceptualizing an NFL-themed version," continues Phillips. "Bing liked the concept and we began production with an eye for defining 'decisive moments' in [quarterbacks'] careers."
"It's a massive lift," says Gurry, of Bing's growing market share. She adds that the Jay-Z Decoded  campaign pushed "intent-of-use" buzz--which tracks future consumer habits--by 15 points.
Still, while Microsoft has been touting its gains, it's not clear whether they come at the expense of Google. ComScore shows that even though Microsoft's explicit core search jumped 0.2% in December, Google managed to grow by 0.4%. What's more, Bing-powered search engines such as Yahoo had declines for the month. Experian's data indicates Google's market share dropped just 1% over the period, but still dominates the market at close to 70%.
Will Bing and Microsoft continue to narrow the gap? If Microsoft can't, even with support from Jay-Z, ESPN, and $100 million, perhaps no one can.