MSNBC’s Huge Blog Ad Buy

Struggling cable news network MSNBC has invested one million dollars in an ad surge that includes this blog.

To Promote a Cable Network, a Plan to Inundate the Internet (NYT)

The MSNBC cable network plans to flood the Internet this week with its largest concentrated online pitch, running advertising on hundreds of Web sites and blogs. The cost of the campaign, to promote three prime-time programs, is estimated at just under $1 million. MSNBC, owned by Microsoft and the NBC Universal division of General Electric, will promote the shows – with their hosts, Keith Olbermann, Rita Cosby and Joe Scarborough – in ads that are to start appearing tomorrow and continue all day Wednesday. Some ads will promote segments on the shows about life online, like how marketers sponsor “viral” video clips that consumers can forward to each other.

Actually, they started yesterday morning, at least on BlogAds.

MSNBC will take over every pixel of ad space on Wednesday on three Web sites:, and It is the first time the three sites will all run ads for the same sole advertiser on the same day, said Caroline Little, chief executive and publisher at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, part of the Washington Post Company. “Consumers will see the campaign has a lot of oomph behind it,” Ms. Little said.

MSNBC is also using search engine marketing, buying keywords on Google, like “viral videos.” Computer users searching for articles with such words will see ads alongside their search results with links to

“We want to find out something we haven’t known before,” said Frank Radice, senior vice president for the East Coast office of the NBC Agency, the internal unit that works on behalf of networks like MSNBC, NBC and Sci Fi Channel. “Can we drive traffic from the Internet to the cable channel?”

Val Nichols, vice president for the creative services group at MSNBC, estimated the campaign would get 114 million viewings in total. Among the 800 blogs that will run the ads are Adrants, Althouse, Curbed, Daily Kos, Gothamist, IndieWire, Largehearted Boy, Talking Points Memo and TV Newser. Buying ads on 800 blogs is a major commitment to that fledgling medium. Budget Rent A Car bought ads last month on 177 blogs, and Audi bought ads this summer on 286.

The announcement of the ads were followed a couple hours later with an email from BlogAds founder Henry Copeland warning us that a few of the ads were “racy” because they were advertising for a piece on porn.

Rev. Don Sensing was not concerned about this, noting,

The show the ad references today, about the ubiquity of porn and the porn industy, is an important one. Most people have no idea how big a share porn has of the national economy — and how addictive online porn is. Pastoral counselors know, though.

Duncan “Atrios” Black, though, thinks MSNBC missed the mark:

I certainly appreciate MSNBC’s massive blog advertising buy, but they seem to have missed the opportunity to make use of the targeted advertising that blogads allows. Liberals watch MSNBC for three main reasons. First, it’s frequently a better place to get actual news than CNN. Second, Keith Olbermann. Third, there are some who are addicted to those occasional moments when Tweety sounds a bit reasonable. The purpose of MSNBC’s ad buy is to get people to actually watch the network, not to drive traffic to their site. If they were smarter they’d use the ad space to remind people why the shold watch Olbermann, or let us know that Tweety is letting one of his occasional liberal guests on to have a say. On conservative blogs they’d have ads talking up the Mayor of Looneyville’s show. Leave the neon tits to the sex blogs.

That may well be right, although the click through rates I’m seeing on my adstrip indicates that the ad is “working” in the sense of generating clicks. Whether it’s doing anything to increase viewership is another matter, of course.

Photo Screencap of MSNBC page The thing that struck me is just how poor MSNBC’s site is. There is a lot of good content there, including being the portal for Newsweek magazine, but much of the high-visibility content is dated. For instance, “Tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving” would seem somewhat moot on December 12. Indeed, it is the newest of the stories linked under the “MSNBC Live” section, most of which are a more than a month old. That’s just ridiculous.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    The thing that struck me is just how poor MSNBC’s site is.

    Classic. “Hey, our product is struggling. Should we find out what we’re doing wrong, or just advertise more?”

    Apparently the latter is much easier.

  2. Brian says:

    Actually, is far from struggling. It has the most traffic of any news site on the web. They must be doing something right.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Brian: I wouldn’t have guessed that. I was referring to the news channel itself, though. And, oddly, the ad links to , the TV site, rather than the much better news portal you link. (Which is where Newsweek can be found.)

  4. Elmo says:

    The world is such a strange place …… so many alternative dimesnions:

    “Liberals watch MSNBC for three main reasons. First, it’s frequently a better place to get actual news than CNN. Second, Keith Olbermann.”

    Network television … a source for news? Only Al Jazeera rates lower than CNN (and not by much). Keith Olberman?

    These people are just plain magillicuddy, loopdie loop, twisted, booby shooby.

  5. Herb says:

    When I watch the news on television, I prefer to get news that is fair, honest and truthful.

    I don’t watch PMSNBC because they don’t provide any of the above listed traits.

  6. Um, who’s “Tweety”?

    I realize I’d probably know this if I (or anyone else on the planet) watched MSNBC, but I don’t, so I don’t.

  7. Richard Gardner says:

    The link from the ad causes my computer to massively bog down using Firefox 1.5 due to issues with Java Scripts. That made me look at my Java installation and found I had 9 Java Runtime installations on my hard drive (roughly 1 GB). I deleted all but last week’s version, but I still have problems with the MSNBC site (I haven’t rebooted though, do that later tonight).

    So my assessment of the MSNBC site is that it has too many bells and whistles (and poor coding?). I hav about 20 tabs open now (researching something) and only MSNBC gives me problems. Not to mention that their videos state IE is required.

  8. James Joyner says:

    Richard: Interesting. I haven’t had any problems lately but used to have problems accessing MSNBC from the office in both Firefox and IE.

  9. I got the ad offer, but I received no warning. Neither did John Cole of Balloon Juice, I believe.

    I turned it down because I consider The Big Three and their baby newsnets to be pond scum. Wouldn’t trust them no matter what.

    And you know what? They proved themselves unworthy with the bait-and-switch.

  10. Sneem says:

    You can run a mule from sun up to sun down, but its not going to win the Kentucky Derby. You can advertise a network for days on end. It’s still a lousy network. MSNBC’s numbers are in the toilet because that’s about the quality of reporting they provide.