DIRECT PC SELLER MICRON FIGHTS ALSO-RAN STATUS: FOCUSED, COCKY ADS REFLECT TARGET ENTREPRENEURS

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Micron Electronics is counting on a focused marketing and ad strategy to put the also-ran PC player back in the game.

The direct marketer will launch a magazine and online campaign next month employing a theme -- "New rules. New tools" -- it hopes will resonate with smaller, entrepreneurial companies.

Micron's budget, slashed early this year while new management came up with a game plan, now is expected to revert to last year's level of about $63 million. But Micron executives said the budget could grow dramatically if the company finds approaches that drive sales.

Newspaper ads started last week, and TV will follow in the fourth quarter. The campaign was developed by creative boutique Bam!, which is working with Frog Design on online work and Direct Impact on a direct mail campaign; all three are in Austin, Texas.

Micron, a spinoff of computer memory maker Micron Technology, is known for well-engineered PCs and muddled marketing.

Last year, its print budget ranked just behind that of direct powerhouse Dell Computer Corp. and ahead of No. 2 direct player Gateway, according to Adscope. Yet Micron executives said only 11% of PC buyers know the company.

`HORRIBLY LOW' AWARENESS

"We have horribly low unaided brand awareness," said new VP-worldwide marketing Mark Gonzales.

Computer consultant Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies agreed. "They basically have had lousy marketing."

Micron was a distant 10th in the U.S. market with just a 2% share in the first half, according to Dataquest.

Chairman-CEO Joel Kocher, a onetime top Dell sales executive recruited by Micron in January, has assembled a team that is focusing on a segment analysts believe is ripe for attention from a direct seller: businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees.

"It's picking places where the other guys aren't focused," said Dataquest analyst Kimball Brown.

In print, Micron will mainly run multipage units, opening with a brand spread and following with "store," pages on which Micron lays out its products and services.

ADS TAKE SPIRITED TONE

Print ads will run in computer titles where Micron secured key gatefold positions, as well as emerging business titles such as Fast Company and mainstream business publications including Business Week and The Wall Street Journal.

The spirited copy in one ad reads in part: "They wouldn't give you the time of day. They said you weren't a player . . . They're holding on line three."

"There's a certain arrogance and cockiness in our ads" reflecting their entrepreneurial target, said Bam! Creative Director Mike Bevil.

"We are selling digital slingshots for the Davids to topple Goliaths," added Micron Creative Director Mike Rosenfelt.

Micron ads will promote clever "tools," including trade-ins, lease deals and ways to get pre-release versions of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT 5.0. Microsoft is working with Micron to help push NT into midsize businesses.

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