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