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Microsoft Bing is piloting a new form of search advertising in Windows 8.1 — allowing advertisers to promote themselves with bold photography, custom links and other visual elements when users search for the names of their brands.

The “Hero Ads,” unveiled today, blend elements of display and search advertising. They are being tested by advertisers including Land Rover, Jaguar, Home Depot, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Radio Shack. During the pilot, the ads will be shown to a subset of people searching for the specific names of the companies or brands on Windows 8.1.

The test is part of a larger departure from traditional text-based ads in the search industry. Google last week acknowledged that it was experimenting with banner ads across the top of search results.

Microsoft unveiled the ads in Redmond today at a briefing with reporters and digital advertising executives. The company says the Hero ads are in a limited test for now. Forty-four percent of Windows 8.1 searchers in the U.S. who type the specific search terms will see the new ads.

The initiative is part of a broader effort by Bing to build new momentum for its search advertising business — trying to compete more effectively against Google with help from Windows and other Microsoft products.

“Bing is the knowledge engine behind our services,” said David Pann, the general manager of Microsoft’s search business, during the briefing today. “Bing will be integrated into every application and every service that Microsoft develops, every device that Microsoft deploys.”

Some of the advertising gurus at the event were skeptical about the potential user reaction to seeing the Hero ads when they expect traditional search results. But others noted that the Hero results are more visually appealing than the websites of some companies. Microsoft said it’s watching the pilot closely to gauge the user reaction. Searchers will still be able to scroll to the right for additional search results.

Microsoft is testing the Hero ads as part of Windows 8.1’s Smart Search feature, which lets users search universally across their device, the web, apps and cloud storage, and presents search results for certain terms — such as cities and other “entities” — in a way that appears more like a custom app.

The company says it isn’t charging for the Hero ads during the pilot with selected brands, and company executives declined to speculate on how much of a premium the ads might command.

Microsoft said last week that overall advertising revenue at the company increased $106 million or 13% in the fiscal first quarter, or about $921 million in revenue. Search advertising revenue drove the increase, the company said.

Microsoft has about 18 percent of the U.S. search market on its own, according to comScore data, and just under 30 percent when counting the search results that the company serves for Yahoo under their partnership. Google search market share in the U.S. is about 67 percent.

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