HP sheds stodgy image, goes too cool for school

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HP is turning from engineers to female rockers and animals.

This week, Gwen Stefani will present talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres with the first of a limited-edition, Stefani-designed HP digital camera. Showing up in TV spots next week will be the animated penguins and other animals of DreamWorks' "Madagascar" using HP cameras and printers. Both are the latest manifestations of Hewlett-Packard's evolving and ever-more-enterprising entertainment brand-strategy push.

The strategy was born under former CEO Carly Fiorina, and while some point to her affinity for the glamour of Hollywood as a driver, it had become clear even before Ms. Fiorina joined in 1999 that HP had to do something to change its consumer image. The stalwart company was known for great technology, but had little more than a just-another-computer-tech company image before embarking on the entertainment push.

New CEO Mark Hurd has committed to executing the strategy Ms. Fiorina laid out, and the board, as well as other key executives at HP, remain strong supporters.

HP needs the entertainment-brand angle for more than just the movie, music, and TV industry buzz. It needs it to grow the company. "They've been very aggressive in trying to position HP as the company that understands entertainment and can do everything from soup to nuts," said Rob Enderle of Enderle Group. "Their belief, and I would agree, is that if you can own the entire food chain, you will have great economies of scale."

While analysts agree that executing that broad strategy, especially in the ?ber-competitive electronics and tech industries, will be difficult, they also agree that already it's been effective in changing consumers' image of HP.

"It's taken HP from its existing image as forward-looking-but-still-stodgy old-line tech company and put it in the realm of entertainment provider," said Roger Kay, IDC analyst. "Just the fact that people are aware of HP as a brand is a big step. In the past that wouldn't have happened. They were an industrial brand for years until about five years ago."

HP believes the key to the deals are the extensive nature of the partnerships. It's more than just product placement or ad campaigns touting the association. The "entertainment-alliance partnerships"-a hefty list that includes Viacom, Starbucks, Universal Music Group and TV shows such as "Project Greenlight" and the upcoming "The `70s House" on MTV-earns HP income, rub-off brand buzz, fodder for marketing campaigns, new-product possibilities and even new business modeling opportunities.

"It's very tempting for companies to do vanity deals, that is, ally with celebrities and big names, and then make a big initial splash," said Stacy Katz, director-entertainment marketing, HP. "What we're most proud of at HP is that we partner for the long term and we deliver for both our partners and our customers. And we get the maximum return on our investment."

While HP has done consumer advertising around its DreamWorks partner movies before, including "Shrek 2" and "Shark Tales," the "Madagascar" ads are the first to go further than just pointing out how HP technology made movies cool. The promotion, which includes TV, online, and retail, is dubbed "Snap and Go Wild" and shows how HP can make consumers lives just as cool.

`WHAT CAN THEY DO FOR ME?'

"The idea is all about the flexibility of our technology and consumers don't get that," said Karen Cage, manager-HP worldwide consumer-sponsorships and entertainment-marketing group. "This shows if HP can do something this cool for DreamWorks, what can they do for me?"

The promotion with Ms. Stefani is also a first with an entertainment celebrity custom-designing an HP product. In addition to the "Ellen" appearance, Ms. Stefani appears in online ads for "her" camera (only 3,000 available and only at hp.com/buy/gwen) and will judge a teen contest where kids can show off their HP Harajuku style (after the trendy district in Tokyo and Ms. Stefani's hit "Harajuku Girls"). HP products also appear in Ms. Stefani's music videos.

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