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Windows 7 Advertising Gets Personal

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Forget a picture of a loved one, Microsoft is letting key advertisers take over the desktop images and audio of willing users

While some people choose to adorn their computer desktop with a photo of a loved one or an inspirational piece of art in an attempt to ward off the effects of the modern corporate grind, Microsoft has decided the real-estate has other potential.

In a statement released this week, the company announced two new “branding opportunities” designed to allow advertisers to stamp their corporate identity on the desktops and Internet Explorers of willing Windows 7 participants. Windows Theme Experience and Windows Personalisation Gallery, announced at the Monaco Media Forum in Monaco Carlo, are a chance for consumers to “download the branded themes they are most passionate about”, Microsoft said.

The themes, which consumers must opt into, have already been bought into by several advertisers including Ducati, Porsche and Twentieth Century Fox. “The new Windows Theme Experience and Windows Personalization Gallery in Windows 7 allow consumers to customise their technology to reflect the things in life they are most passionate about,” said Darren Huston, corporate vice president of the Consumer & Online organisation at Microsoft. “These are great examples of Microsoft innovation and technology coming together to enable top global brands to reach audiences in new and interesting ways.”

The two approaches to desktop advertising are currently being trialed as part of a pilot that will run until October 2010. Windows Theme Experience appears to allow advertisers to include their branding on Internet Explorer 8 add-ons, web gadgets, Windows 7 backgrounds and borders and even operating system audio effects. “These new themes are intended for a brand’s most passionate fans and allow for a deeper engagement by letting consumers embed their favorite brand into their PC experience,” according to Microsoft’s branding gurus.

Windows Personaliation Gallery, appears to be a similar concept to the Theme Experience but is described as a “desktop branding experience” and includes slide shows and audio effects.

The idea of being able to “integrate brands” directly onto the target market’s desktop appears to be popular concept with some advertisers already. “People connect emotionally with films and the stories they tell,” said Bettina Sherick, vice president, Digital Marketing, Twentieth Century Fox International. “These are the same people who personalise their digital experience. We are thrilled to be able to bring our film properties to consumers and let them engage more deeply with the stories that move them.”

Advertising execs from car-maker Porsche is also struck with Microsoft’s plan for turning a PC user interface into a branding opportunity. “We pride ourselves on innovation and ground-breaking technology at Porsche, as well as customer service where we strive to listen to our clients,” said Scott Baker, advertising manager for Porsche Cars of North America. “We know that to engage with consumers, you have to integrate with their lives.”

Late last month, the EC increased pressure on the UK government to establish clear regulations on privacy and data protection that are in line with EU standards. The EC’s decision to step up its assault on online privacy laws in the UK is related to the government’s failure to crack down on the use of behavioural advertising technology known as ‘Phorm’, which delivers targeted ad campaigns by using broadband ISPs to monitor users’ behaviour.