CAMPAIGNS: Streetwise on the Internet - Hi-tech PR

In July 1996 The Red Consultancy was researching a lifestyle campaign to promote Microsoft Network (MSN), Microsoft’s new Internet service provider.

In July 1996 The Red Consultancy was researching a lifestyle

campaign to promote Microsoft Network (MSN), Microsoft’s new Internet

service provider.

The agency asked a simple question - how do ordinary people feel about

using the Internet? MSN marketing director Taylor Collyer admits that

Microsoft didn’t know. It became obvious that no one had researched the

consumer experience of the Internet.

The agency’s solution was to create the first, real-life ’cyber

community’ by linking houses in a street to each other and to the



To examine how participants’ perceptions of the Internet change over

time and to obtain specific feedback on MSN Internet services. To

support MSN’s positioning as the company which gets ordinary people on

to the Internet.


MSN wanted participants from a broad range of backgrounds so efforts

were concentrated on finding a London-based community. In an Islington

street, 24 houses opted into the scheme and agreed to record their

experiences in a diary. In return MSN loaned computers and Internet

software as well as creating a private bulletin board for exchanging

local news and gossip. Launch date was 13 March.

Media strategy focused on obtaining quality coverage through pre-launch

briefings with BBC TV and radio, Reuters and the Times Interface. On the

launch date press releases and VNRs were dispatched to a wider


A key concern was how to protect residents’ security and privacy in the

face of strong media interest. The agency addressed this by persuading

journalists not to identify the street. For the benefit of photographers

and film crews, Islington Council allowed the original street sign to be

replaced with ’London Borough of Islington MSN Street’.

Ongoing media strategy included selling the story as a case study to

lifestyle magazines such as She. The agency is also working with a

Microsoft research team to analyse participants’ feedback in preparation

for media announcements on the project’s outcome.


To date MSN Street has received comprehensive broadcast coverage both

locally and nationally. Publications covering the launch included the

Times, the FT and the Independent as well as regional, consumer and

trade titles. MSN Street has also reached an international audience

through the BBC World Service, and Sky Global Village as well as

coverage in French and American newspapers and on Italian TV.


Critics of the project point out that with its ABC1 participants MSN

Street cannot provide a reliable guide to the behaviour of ordinary

Internet consumers. However, the sheer originality of the concept has

already excited considerable media interest even before the company has

been able to turn up any hard facts as to the man on the street’s view

of this futuristic grapevine.

Client: Microsoft Network

PR Team: The Red Consultancy

Campaign: MSN Street

Timescale: October 1996-September 1997

Cost: Undisclosed

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