The purveyor of computer software to the planet, Microsoft, is not a company that is happy to play second fiddle.

Following weeks of carefully orchestrated hype [WAMN: 16-Mar-05], the Seattle-headquartered giant has unveiled MSN AdCenter, designed to capture online search advertising dollars.

The system will be tested in Singapore and France before being rolled out in the US to take on its established and hugely successful competitors.

AdCenter technology has one important edge on its rivals: it enables advertisers to target an audience via demographic data - gender, age and interests - collected by MSN from its users.

Paid search and online advertising have contributed strongly to MSN's growth during the last six quarters. For the second fiscal quarter of 2005 ad revenue grew 17% or $49 million (€36m, £25m) on total MSN revenue of $588m.

Until now MSN has been dependent on Yahoo Search Marketing Solutions to power its paid search in a revenue sharing agreement. This arrangement will continue through next year while MSN tests its own system.

Peter Hershberg from search engine marketing agency Reprise Media believes the launch will follow the classic MS marketing paradigm: "Microsoft built its empire as a late mover into established markets," he says.

"They wait until a viable sector of the tech industry springs up and stabilizes, make incremental improvements to existing products and then flood the market. Everything we've seen suggests that they're poised to do the same in paid search."

Data sourced from AdAge (USA); additional content by WARC staff