By: Marc Bresseel, vice president of global marketing, Microsoft Advertising

In partnership with USA TODAY, the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity and Microsoft Corporate Citizenship, the Microsoft Advertising team came up with a pretty cool marketing challenge: Invite U.S. marketers under 30 years of age to develop a winning marketing plan that focused on ‘owned and earned’ media for a nonprofit doing important work in the world.

As part of a broader sponsorship in the annual Young Lions competition, marketers from across the globe will compete at this year’s Cannes Festival beginning on June 20, 2011. We set out to sponsor the inaugural Young Marketer qualification round and help get the U.S. delegates to Cannes in order to compete with their peers across the globe!

As part of the U.S. qualification process, we asked marketing teams to create a digital marketing plan for Kiva.org, the world's first personal micro-lending website, which empowers individuals to lend to entrepreneurs across the globe. We whittled the impressive list, which included more than 30 marketers and brands such as Coca-Cola, Del Monte, General Mills, Nike, Johnson & Johnson, Toyota, Unilever, and Sony Pictures down to four finalist teams who were flown out to Redmond, Washington in April to compete.

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In the end, Kirsten Smith and Lee Meyers, brand managers from the Beauty Care division of Johnson & Johnson were announced as our winners and will be flown – all expenses paid – to the Cannes Advertising Festival to compete in the global Young Marketing competition as the U.S. delegates.

Kiva also came away a winner, having gathered several new and inspiring ideas to build upon their digital marketing strategies. One of the concepts Kiva plans to explore further includes using social media to help drive new member acquisition and advocacy from their existing base of members. Other interesting concepts that incorporated user-generated contests and rewards and recognition programs also resonated with the Kiva judging panel.

One of the key takeaways for us is we realize the digital marketing phenomenon isn’t isolated to just big brands. Organizations like Kiva can define what owned and earned media can mean for marketers in the future. We can’t wait to see how the Johnson & Johnson team wows us at Cannes!

See you there!

Marc