It was the ‘Session of Sessions’. Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer addressed a fully packed hall at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival on June 24, 2009. The audience comprised industry leaders such as WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell; WPP’s Director of Strategy Mark Read; Mediabrands CEO Nick Brien, Starcom MediaVest Group’s Sean Finnigan among many others.
The session was followed by a question and answer round with a more select audience. The first question to Ballmer came from none other than Sir Martin Sorrell, where he asked how the balance in search can be restored. Ballmer replied, “That is something that we are working on very closely too, and that was one of the reasons why we have been open to a partnership with Yahoo! But we have got to be realistic. You have to begin with a decent product that will require significant initial energy. It needs pushing, extra work to make it more meaningful. There has to be relevance in the search.”
He added, “We are talking about tactical differentiation right now, about reinventing the interface and in all push on all dimensions.”
Replying to some of the other questions, Ballmer said that the next game changing aspect of the online medium would be something akin to Microsoft Windows Networking. He spoke also on how transactions and commercial patterns would dictate the dominance of the computer screen or mobile screen for a consumer. One online advice that Ballmer gave was “Any brand’s most important investment in the online space, was investing in its own websites.”
The future of content and advertising
Prior to the audience interaction round, Steve Ballmer delved on the future of content and advertising while speaking on delivering the promise of online advertising. He divulged that Microsoft’s online advertising revenues were in excess of USD 2 billion and that the company was very serious about it.
The keywords with which Ballmer began his address were - Brand, how it could be built online and offline; Buzz, how do you let your presence be known and Sales, how do you get anything sold. He cautioned that the challenge would really begin in the new world, when all content would be digital. There won't be newspapers, magazine and TV programmes the way we know these media today.
“We ought to drive everyone to consume information digitally,” said Ballmer. According to him, people expect to have an appropriate chance to communicate, and that means content that is social, interactive, integrated, relevant and multi-device. The future of content and information wouldn't be the same. And in this new media world, internet content would enable online advertising.
Where on one side the industry needed to create relevant ads, buzz, brands, sales and modern content, the buying side would be about the internet, placement context or user; reach, time and moments of truth. In the centre of this buying and selling points was content that included search, social, personal, professional content, user content platforms, advertiser sites and other sites.
Media consumption patterns have shifted significantly. For any brand, today it is very important to invest in its own website, and tell its own story. When it came to other websites, it was important to know who would be creating content, what was their motivation and if they would be taking advertising.
The chain began from content, moved to advertising and from there to media. He stressed the need to have a sense of what was relevant. Ballmer spoke on three delivery points of computer, mobile and TV. He observed that since the internet has so far been designed for the computer, everyone is in the process of making sure that the same content looks good into smaller screens too, as mobility was growing fast.
As he inched towards a conclusion, he said, “We are not in a recession, because that would mean recovering. We have reset. We have come to a level lower from where we were, and now we are getting used to working at that level. Governments around the world are working on creating policies and conditions that would make it easier for us to get used to this level, where we would come down slower, but go up slower too. But that doesn’t stop anyone from still making the big bets.” A piece de resistance.