The multimedia barrage, created by Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide, New York, began rolling last week with the theme "Born to Web." The effort features a broad mix of high-profile network and cable TV buys, ads in lifestyle magazines, Internet banners, sponsorships and the company's first significant out-of-home push.
Dell bought a billboard placement in New York's Times Square as well as outdoor space for its WebPC in 11 major metropolitan areas. Wild postings, bus sides, subway station "dioramas," postcards, concert sponsorships, event marketing at three college bowls as well as guerilla-marketing tactics are included in the mix.
Executives declined to reveal expenditures for the effort that continues through January, when it will be evaluated.
Dell's target demographic for the WebPC is broad: from junior to grandma, and from first-time PC buyers to repeat purchasers.
Focus group research during a nine-month product development cycle showed the Internet was central to all who participated, regardless of age.
"[Focus group participants] were all celebrating the Web and the digital lifestyle, whether they were on it [the Web] or aspired to be on it," said Dave Marmonti, director of Dell's Web business unit. Mr. Marmonti describes the psychographic of the broad group as "cyberpsyched."
"This whole campaign is really geared toward people celebrating what they can do online," added Mr. Marmonti.
Dell's spots are supercharged, featuring people making declarative statements such as: "I was born to be bombarded by information"; "I was born to be an Internet junkie"; "I was born to turn my mind over to the Web"; and "I was born to Web." The spots list a special Web address for ordering: www.webpc.com.
Historically, most of Dell's consumer and small-business advertising has focused on speeds and feeds, a veritable catalog of specifications with very little brand resonance. The WebPC effort signals a departure and a commitment to ingraining the Dell brand with consumers, enticing them with the same level of service and support the company's business customers receive.
Van Baker, an analyst with Dataquest, a technology research organization, said Dell projects the WebPC will comprise 5% to 10% of its unit sales next year with replacement purchases driving the sales opportunity. Mr. Marmonti declined to confirm the projection.
"It's an attempt to get beyond the traditional Dell customer base and an attempt to establish Dell as a consumer PC product company," Mr. Baker said.
GETTING TO CONSUMERS
"I think what Dell is trying to do with this is establish a brand that begins to talk to consumers, and they're trying to get people to pick up the phone and call them or go to the Web. They firmly believe that once they get to the consumer, they'll get them and retain them," he said.
Dell threw its hat into the consumer ring at the right time, waiting for other companies to prove their style-based computers first. Apple Computer, NEC, Gateway and Compaq Computer Corp. each have Web-centric, design-driven PCs on the market.
The WebPC comes in four configurations, each bundled with a monitor, printer and a year of Dellnet Internet service. The lowest-price package starts at $999. Taking a page from Apple's wildly successful iMac, Dell offers its compact WebPC in five colors: Napa Purple, Red River Red, Sea Island Teal, Sedona Orange and Tahoe Blue.
While the effort is coming a little late in the fourth quarter, Dell's direct model enables it to have the product literally roll off the assembly line.
NEW STRATEGIC DIRECTION
Is Dell committed to the consumer market?
"It's more than an interest, it's a strategic direction," said Tim Bajarin, president, Creative Strategies Research International, a high-tech consulting company.
"Michael Dell is never first in anything. Dell's style is to let other guys do the evangelism and then, at the right point, you come in with a superior product, marketing and distribution," Mr. Bajarin said. "He doesn't haphazardly just go into a market."