Spending time with Ms. Dewey

KAI RYSSDAL: There was a website a couple of years ago that got a decent amout of attention. Maybe you saw it. There was a guy in a chicken suit who did whatever you typed in. Eat a sandwhich, do push ups, that kind of thing. It was Burger King's shot at viral marketing. Publicity on the cheap. Microsoft's trying the same sort of thing to generate buzz for its new search engine. Not a guy in a chicken suit this time. A live action sexy librarian character with an attitude. Ms. Dewey is her name. Marketplace's Sean Cole paid a visit and found it hard to leave.


SEAN COLE: She stands at a long black desk, a glass wall behind her displaying a futuristic city-scape. She wears a fetching black blouse, a big belt, her hair tied back and parted sensibly to the side. Her eyes, like her name, dewy.
MS DEWEY: What are you looking for?

You type in the entry.

COLE: [TYPING] Howard Stern

And she responds.

MS. DEWEY: I just got satellite radio so I could hear what's his face swear. Know what? I don't see what the big f**kin' deal is.

The actual text links show up in the upper right hand corner. But if you're like me you just ignore them because the little canned responses are so addictive. Sometimes they're generic. And sometimes they're eerily appropriate.

COLE: Economics

MS. DEWEY: You know, it's searches like that that just scream beat me up and take my lunch money.

COLE: [TYPING] Yeah? Well you're a lame ass.

MS. DEWEY: Someone's going to get a time out if they're not careful.

But then when you do take a time out, or just wait too long to ask her something, she gets really impatient.

MS DEWEY: Hellooooo, type something here...

She's always assumes you're a guy.

MS DEWEY: Hey Ricardo come get a look at what this guy did a search for.

And as a guy, she makes me feel anxious, obsessive and inadequate — as I mentioned to "Windows Live" Buzz Marketing Manager Sean Carver.

SEAN CARVER: Isn't it great? Yeah, it's like if you were having a bad day and you're just being a baby? She wouldn't take any of it.

Carver says the actual search results "Ms. Dewey" comes up with are generated by "Windows Live Search" and that creating buzz is just part of Dewey's job.

CARVER: You know the underlying part is of course we want you to get onto the site and maybe see that, "Oh, the Windows Live results are actually pretty good, and so let me use that search next time — let me go to live dot com and let me always do my search results out of that.

Plus, queries on Ms. Dewey count toward the Neilsen Net Ratings for "Windows Live Search." And it could use the help. Windows Live replaced its lagging predecessor MSN Search in September. In October, the search engine still only had 9 percent of the market — compared to Google's 50 percent. Meantime, Microsoft spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Ms. Dewey — filming 600 or so little responses over three days.

CARVER: You know a lot of the responses, let's just say I didn't pass it by legal first...because they probably wouldn't have been approved.

COLE: Like the one with the condoms and the helmet.

CARVER: [LAUGHS SHEEPISHLY] As an example.

MS DEWEY: Safety first.

LARRY WEBER: All right, I don't get it.

I tooled around on the site a little with Larry Weber. He runs a holding company of quote-unquote "next generation" marketing services called W2 group. He says Microsoft is just jumping on the next generation bandwagon with Ms. Dewey...but he also says it's the first time they've actually developed a website that's this engaging.

WEBER: So in that I'll give em some kudos. But part two of that is what happens when you've engaged someone? So are you downloading something, are you buying something, you know, what is part two of Ms. Dewey — or is she just this, you know, one night stand? [LAUGHS]

But Sean Carver at Microsoft . . . But Sean Carver at Microsoft says the company really wants to make some advancements in what's called social search — maybe even enlist Web users to film their own query responses.

COLE: Let's see.

There was just one other person I had to talk to about Ms. Dewey.

COLE: [TYPING] Janina Gavankar

MS. DEWEY: Janina Gavankar, now that is talent. She's very trained. She's trained in operatic singing, orchestral percussion...

She's also the actress who plays Dewey. And she says the site has developed a little personal buzz for her as well.

JANINA GAVANKAR: You really sort of understand how viral marketing works when you walk around and you hear people say, "Yeah, I've heard of Dewey. That's you?" And then you know I sort of like, pull half my hair and sweep it over to the side and I'm like, "No really it's me I promise."

COLE: That is so geeky.

GAVANKAR: [LAUGHS] Yeah. [JOKING] Shut up, what're you talking about?

Gavankar told me she started tracking Dewey's virulency the day it launched. Watching the link results grow from six to 12 thousand to 60 thousand and so on. But unfortunately for Windows Live, she did all of that tracking on Google.

In Boston, I'm Sean Cole for Marketplace.

COLE: [TYPING] Kai Ryssdal.

MS DEWEY: Are you just letting your dog type now?

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