Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) latest ad for Bing begins with two friends in a supermarket, presumably stocking up before a football-viewing party. One friend can't decide between guacamole and salsa, and that's where the search cacophony starts.
The other friend interprets his query as a request for salsa music, and that's where the rest of the supermarket begins distorting the original request. By the end of the ad, an Animal House food fight breaks out, complete with the husky friend re-enacting Bluto's zit scene with a mouthful of guac.
Yes, it's another annoying Bing "decision engine" commercial. They'll keep coming, because they've been effective. Bing wasn't even around two years ago, but it's really the only mainstream competition that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) is facing since Microsoft managed to get Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) to outsource its queries through Bing.
What does this all mean, though? Are we clear on what makes a decision engine different than the search engine that Google and Yahoo! have been cranking out for years?
The Bing ad ends with someone simply typing "salsa" into Bing, so I figured I would start there.
Typing "salsa" into Bing doesn't help me decide between guacamole and salsa. There are four snapshots at the top of salsa recipes, but the first two text-based entries are for salsa music. That's followed by clips of salsa dancing videos and a link to bike maker Salsa Cycles.
Isn't this the same noise that Bing ads mock? It's not any better on Google. In fact, it's probably worse. On my search, Google's entry features the same two salsa dancing and music Wikipedia entries followed by a bike company. Google does have "related" links to salsa recipes and homemade salsa in a smaller font above the entries.
Obviously there's no five-letter word that's going to settle the score between two popular chip dips, but Bing's the one advertising that pecking s-a-l-s-a into its search window is going to open up a realm of clarity. It's not. Bing is just another search engine.
We don't need better search engines. We need better searchers.
Some will argue that it doesn't matter. Bing wins because the marketing campaign has helped establish the brand it launched when it repositioned its Live search two springs ago.
Financially, I can't agree. Microsoft continues to post losses in its online business despite Bing's sophomore year success. The trend is unlikely to reverse when Microsoft reports Thursday.
The publicity hasn't been enough to drum up advertisers willing to pay top dollar for keyword bids through Bing. In a grim tip to what we may expect out of Microsoft's online arm later this week, Local.com (Nasdaq: LOCM ) shares plunged 25% earlier this month after it hosed down its guidance.
As a syndicator of Yahoo! paid search, Local.com blamed Bing's taking over Yahoo!'s results for the lower revenue generated per click. In other words, Bing leads are cheaper for sponsors than they were on Yahoo!.
This may not be problematic when Yahoo! reports earnings tonight. Yahoo!'s terms include pricing guarantees from Bing during at least the first 18 months of the 10-year deal. It will be Microsoft that pays the price for its inability to drum up chunkier ad revenue.
Mr. Softy isn't going to cry about it. A cash-rich balance sheet and its high-margin software stronghold will draw attention away from Bing's financial setbacks.
However, sooner or later, Microsoft is going to have to explain what makes its "decision engine" superior when -- on the salsa-typing surface -- it's simply following the same dance moves found elsewhere.
What do you think of Bing's search engine? What are you expecting out of Microsoft in this week's quarterly report? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.