Lenovo has seen its future, and it's all about the Ultrabook.
The superthin, industrial chic, ultraportable laptops are not only the stars of a big branding campaign set to begin in the U.S. June 25, but also its biggest product introduction -- and marketing gamble -- in years.
"We see Ultrabook as a very significant transition in the industry," said Lenovo CMO David Roman. "It's a great opportunity for brands to reestablish themselves with consumers. … It's a big bet not just on marketing, but also on the range of products we're investing in."
Lenovo's campaign, with spending in the "many tens of millions," will use TV, digital and out-of -home media as teasers to drive consumers to a short-form film on YouTube and Lenovo.com.
Called "Seize the Night," the five-minute "film" features young college types passing around a Lenovo Ultrabook, once sliding it under a door and another time hiding it on the shelf of a library, as they collaborate on a secret project, which is only revealed in the film. The campaign was created by Saatchi & Saatchi, New York.
"It's a great anchor to our branding effort," Mr. Roman said. "We think it's a really cool way to take our message of being relevant to the youth market further, especially now with these lower-[cost] Ultrabooks."
Con Williamson, Saatchi's chief creative officer, said, "Ultimately a computer can only do so much. It needs a human brain to take it further, and it's younger people who especially continue to surprise us with everything they do. … It really felt like we were making a film, and the product was just a part of the story."
The PC industry desperately needed a product innovation to help goose the category, which has been losing share to Apple in recent years. With Lenovo's second-generation of Ultrabooks starting at $749, the price falls well below its own and other first-generation devices that were introduced late last year at price tags of $1,000 and higher. Ultrabooks are seen as friendlier to the slimmer wallets of young people and a newly budget-minded professional set. And they're cool -- the design and feature set has been compared favorably by many to the Apple MacBook Air.
"Ultrabooks are built for business users," said Forrester analyst David Johnson. "But if you walk into any college town coffee shop, you'll find plenty of Macs and MacBook Airs, so they're finding a way to buy them. Lenovo is taking a different approach [than other ultrabook marketers] by appealing to young people, but it's an important sector. They're heavy influencers."
Intel last year estimated that 40% of all computers would be ultrabooks by the end of 2012, although that was likely an aggressive stance. IHS iSuppli predicts the 40% share by the end of 2015, with just 13% by the end of this year.
Lenovo's Mr. Roman said he expects Ultrabooks, which run across its entire product line from corporate to consumer, to eventually reach 40% to 50% of its total portfolio.
NPD Group analyst Steve Baker said ultrabooks are a "significant percentage" of sales of $800-plus -priced Windows PCs. He expects that the second generation of ultrabooks, coming out now through the end of the year, will grab more market share thanks to increased variety and marketing heft.
HP, Dell, Toshiba, Samsung, Acer and Asus all have their own ultrabooks -- 75 models from them and other vendors are expected this year. Intel recently launched its own estimated $200 million ad campaign, "A New Era of Computing," to push the devices, and Intel has set up a $300 million fund as incentive for companies working on software and hardware for the form factor.
The push toward ultrabooks could spur ad spending on notebooks and laptops, which has been flat or decreasing over the past several years, while spending on tablets has skyrocketed. Apple, for instance, spent just $222,000 in paid media on notebooks in 2011, down from $32 million in 2010. It spent $240 million on tablets in 2011.
Still, there is some concern that the Ultrabook's cool form factor, long battery life, quick startup time and ultra-portability aren't big enough differentiators, considering all the manufacturers pushing them.
"We do think it's a good product and worth the extra $200 to $300 spent. But that said, ultrabooks are PCs, and PCs are hard to differentiate," Mr. Johnson said. "It's more of the same, and frankly that 's been a problem for some time in the PC industry. They've been building down to a price and building up to a standard."