NO ANSWER YET ON COMPAQ ADS: DDB CAMPAIGN TO CAST PC MAKER AS THE NON-STOP INTERNET COMPANY

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Compaq Computer Corp., battered this year by a prolonged period of management churn that's left it susceptible to quicker, more efficient competitors, is struggling to carve out a new identity as a nimble Internet computing company that can turn on a dime.

But first, Compaq and agency DDB Worldwide must turn out a campaign saying that.

Compaq and the New York shop are wrestling with how to articulate this identity and bring it to life in the next iteration of a global brand campaign originally slated for this month (AA, July 19).

SLOWING THE AD-MAKING

The slow process is bogged down by Compaq's highly decentralized culture, where marketing traditionally is done by divisions; the ouster this spring of President-CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer and its aftermath; and the sudden resignation in July of Andrew Salzman, VP-worldwide advertising and brand strategy.

The campaign is to break in October, a Compaq spokesman confirmed. Executives close to the situation said that Michael Capellas, Compaq's new president-CEO, is involved in reviewing every piece of the creative and strategy.

TACTICAL PITCH?

That strategy revolves around painting Compaq as the non-stop Internet computing company, and people close to the company said creative -- the result of six months of painstaking work -- is more tactical in nature rather than communicating a big idea.

Compaq and DDB executives declined comment.

"It's not a big splash, it's a 'we're ready for the Internet' kind of advertising," said one executive who added, "They [DDB] don't have the answer."

DDB is said to be under enormous pressure on the $300 million account.

And that pressure could be compounded if Compaq names a chief marketing officer in the near term.

A search reportedly is under way.

Two names have surfaced in conjunction with the search: Mary Allard, Digital Equipment Corp.'s former VP-worldwide marketing communications, and David Middleton, a veteran Compaq communications executive who is serving as interim ad czar.

Ms. Allard had close ties to DDB, the agency for Digital, acquired by Compaq last year.

But Compaq's global brand conundrum isn't new. After Compaq broke with Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, in June 1998, DDB came up with the red "Q" and the tag, "Better answers." But "Q," as it turns out, doesn't give Compaq a real strategic position or define why customers should do business with it.

Observers said "Better answers" most likely will be scrapped, although it remains to be seen if the infamous "Q" will live or die.

ARTICULATING THE BRAND

The challenge, as described by one executive close to the marketer and agency, remains how to convey Compaq's overall company position vs. IBM Corp. and/or Sun Microsystems, and how to depict it in a powerful, persuasive way.

While "Q" represented questions tied to answers supplied by Compaq, it doesn't say anything about what the company stands for, an insider said.

DDB reportedly is taking Compaq through its "brand foundations" process, which will ultimately come up with a kind of brand manifesto.

"They should have started with it and tried to figure out a way to get the best expression of this," one person with knowledge of the situation said, "It's like having the wrapping paper without figuring out what they want to wrap."

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