Microsoft Takes Baby Step Into Web 2.0 Ad World

singing-bear.jpgOm just passed me the link to two contests on a Microsoft site that sells their office software to college students. I can just picture the meeting in Redmond where this was cooked up. “So what are the kids into nowadays?” demands the Microsoft exec. His team begins barraging the whiteboard with buzzwords. Avatar-based interaction! User-created, user-rated content! Viral videos!

A few hours later, a new campaign is born: Create a lip-syncing avatar for a chance to win an Xbox or some games. And oh yeah, buy discounted Microsoft software while you’re at it. (If you happen to notice the banner ad running on the contest site, that is.) The featured avatars are built on Oddcast’s Voki platform, which offers a pretty robust toolset for customized avatars, though so far, the zombie-looking human avatars still seem to be on the wrong side of the Uncanny Valley. (Which is probably why the top user-rated contestants are currently a beat-boxing bear dressed like Elvis and, well, an actual zombie.)

With just a couple of Xbox 360 Elites and several dozen games for the console as prizes, the contest is decidedly low stakes, so it comes off like a very tentative experiment in Web 2.0-era advertising on Microsoft’s (MSFT) part. It’s not even a true 2.0 effort, arguably, because the actual winners are not selected by user vote, but according to the rules, “in a random drawing from among all eligible entries received.”

It all feels a bit forced — or as I said to my pal Marshall Kirkpatrick at Read/Write, like something John Hodgman’s character in the Apple commercials would come up with. But then as Marshall notes, some of the submissions are actually pretty funny. Which is really the best Microsoft or any company dabbling in Web 2.0 advertising can hope for — that somehow, enough genuine grassroots talent shows up to create a buzz.

A final irony? While writing this post, the contest site has crashed my Firefox browser several times. But that’s probably because I’m using Vista.

Image credit: Microsoft’s