The versaTiles unit debuted in the U.S. and Brazil last month, with several other global markets including Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan also coming on-stream.
The unit consists of a vertical strip comprised of four or five tiles (mimicking the design of several Windows operating systems) on the right side of the Outlook.com screen. Each individual tile is capable of incorporating a different creative format.
The versaTiles unit is presented in its default state when users log on to Outlook.com, while hovering over a tile brings up additional ad content. Clicking on a tile brings up additional advertising content such as video.
“It’s very much about invitation not interruption, and it’s very much about discovery,” said Joe Strolz, vice-president, Microsoft Advertising in Toronto. He called versaTiles the latest in a “steady drumbeat” of advertising innovation being rolled out by Microsoft.
Outlook is a new web-based mail product that replaces Microsoft’s former Hotmail product. The service came out of preview in February with more than 60 million global users (approximately 15 million Canadian users were migrated over to the service from Hotmail).
Strolz said adoption of Outlook.com has “significantly outpaced” Microsoft’s expectations, with Canada one of its strongest global markets.
Strolz said the revamped Outlook product is a reflection of Microsoft’s ongoing transition from a company specializing in software and licenses to one whose business is based on devices and services.
The versaTiles unit is similar in design to previous ad initiatives undertaken with the rest of Microsoft’s advertising portfolio (Xbox, Skype, Windows 8 etc.), said Strolz, and is intended to appeal to blue-chip advertisers.
“We have tuned the advertising approach so that the marketing messages invite and delight the user in those environments and are reflective of the environments they’re in,” he said. “We’ve taken web-based e-mail and brought it into primetime and when you’re in primetime you’re not going to see ‘Cash for gold’ ads.”
The ad unit enables marketers to tell a “much deeper and richer story” about their brand in a way that promotes discovery, said Strolz.
Webmail remains an “incredibly powerful” ad platform that remains “critical” to consumers even in the face of explosive growth in the social media space, said Strolz.
“Webmail is the trusted place, the private place, the place that is [consumers’] hub for originating and initiating relationships with other social media providers,” he said. “It really does serve as the foundation for a broader ecosystem.”