Microsoft Pilots “Hero Ads” For Branded Search Queries On Windows 8.1 Smart Search

Today, Microsoft unveiled a new ad unit for branded search called Hero Ads. The new units are appearing on select exact match brand queries in Smart Search on Windows 8.1. Consider these ads as the front window or as David Ku, Microsoft VP of engineering referred to them, “a brand’s effective home page on the search results”.

The ad units occupy the entire initial frame of results on Smart Search and offer rich visuals and navigational sitelinks. In the Range Rover example below, there are links to allow users to take a specific action such as Request A Quote, Schedule a Test Drive or navigate to informational content  including Features, Performance and Design.

bing ads hero ads on smart searchDavid Pann explained at the Bing Ads Next event in Redmond, WA today that Microsoft is piloting Hero Ads with about 20 advertisers, including The Home Depot, Walt Disney World,  RadioShack. He explained, Hero Ads provide “a new richer experience that allow advertisers to offer a more compelling result for consumers.” He added, that the test “shows how we are are thinking about evolving the search experience.”

“We expect to be piloting this over the next 6 months, get feedback to see how and when it gets built into the Bing Ads platform,” said Pann. “Feedback so far from consumers has been positive but limited because they are only being shown to a slice of Smart Search traffic.”

Users can swipe to find standard search results, as seen in the result below for “home depot” Update: Microsoft has clarified that the Hero Ads do not take up the entire search window and that standard search results are visible on the screen to the right of the Hero Ad.

bing ads hero ads home depot

These ads are only being displayed on a subset of exact match brand terms. Pann acknowledged that, “Over time we may start to think about how this would expand to nonbrand and non-exact match terms.” For now, the focus is on the brand experience.
Raj Kapoor, Director of Local Engineering, was emphatic, “This is definitely not a banner ad or harkening back to that. That’s not what we are are doing. What we are doing is being very mindful that ‘you are looking for an entity’ and introducing visual elements that consumers would be looking for.” The options available in the links will depend on the vertical. Adding that the early focus group testing was positive, Kapoor said, Hero Ads are “now in production because of early promising feedback from both marketers and consumers”.
Coincidentally, Microsoft’s Hero Ad roll-out comes less than a week after Google introduced its own ad test for brand queries with banners that replace the standard text ads on Google search results. It shouldn’t be surprising that both companies are experimenting with new ways to appeal to brands — and their marketing budgets. They are also both reflections of a move toward more visual search experiences.

Microsoft says it will be looking at customer engagement and click-through rates on the Hero Ads and standard search results when the ads are displayed. The pilot is free to beta testers now, and the pricing model will be determined based on results.