Now, with more homes buying PCs and users as young as preschoolers logging on, reaching the home PC purchaser is much like reaching consumers for life's other necessities: you'll find them just about anywhere.
"Clients are eager to use everything from direct mail to the new family computer magazines to the Internet," says Louise Guryan, VP-director of Integrated Communications unit of FCB Technology Group, Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco.
With home PC sales expected to grow by up to 20% next year, computer marketers are looking to reach consumers on their home turf. That's why companies such as Compaq Computer Corp., IBM Corp., and Intel Corp. are spending lavishly on TV campaigns and spreads in magazines as diverse as Family PC, The New Yorker and Rolling Stone.
Computer marketers are expected to spend $100 million on mainstream media ads in the fourth quarter alone.
"We're going where the consumer feels comfortable," says Mark Rosen, Compaq's director of advertising.
If computers now are considered the equivalent of the "ultimate home appliance," he says, then high-tech equipment, like the entry-level Presario home PC, can be advertised as VCRs and microwave ovens.
It helps, of course, that most PCs are more powerful and cheaper than yesterday's models and come fully loaded with CD-ROMs and other hardware extras.
It also helps that most people have considerable workplace experience with computers and now want to bring that technology home, whether it's to do paperwork, file recipes or run a multimedia disc.
"Just as households now have more than one TV, one VCR or CD player, the trend is that among the 36 million PC-owning households, 25% of those households own more than one PC," says Andy Bose, VP at research consultancy Link Resources. "These are highly educated, highly motivated consumers, and they expect to find information about computers readily available."
Intel recognizes the need to win the hearts and minds, let alone dollars, of home PC buyers. The chip-market leader is spending upwards of $40 million this quarter on consumer-oriented TV and print.
"Intel Inside" ads pop up on TV in shows from "Saturday Night Live" to the "Today" show, and run in a list of publications that includes .
Intel, via agency Dahlin Smith White, Salt Lake City, is also running radio and outdoor advertising in the 11 top computer markets, including Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle.
"There are so many more people able to afford a computer and that want a computer for the home that we have had to broaden our media selections, breaking down the audience by specific segment," says Ann Lewnes, Intel's worldwide ad manager.
Apple Computer is using everything from ads in Yachting and Vanity Fair to MTV and a half-hour infomercial, the first in the home PC category, promoting family use of its Macintosh Performa line.
"We have yet to scratch the surface in terms of where we could go to reach the home PC user," says Steve Hayden, who until late October was chairman-CEO of BBDO Worldwide, Los Angeles, which handles Apple's $100 million account. "It's a much bigger challenge pursuing the home user because there are more [media] choices than just saying, sure, let's use the computer books."
Mr. Hayden this month will move to Ogilvy & Mather, New York, in the new position of president of worldwide brand services on the IBM Corp. account.
Word-of-mouth, computer marketers say, is very influential in initially directing potential PC buyers. What happens then, says David McGovern, director of marketing communications, IBM PC Co., is that consumers start looking for support for their choices through the media they know best-TV, radio and consumer magazines.
"The broad mix of consumers means we need to use a broader mix of media to reach them about Aptiva," IBM's latest PC offering, he says.
Once consumers have plugged in a home PC, then they may seek out the information contained in computer magazines such as Byte and PC World, some observers say.
Until home PC buyers reach that level of computer know-how, approaching them through magazines such as Family Life, FamilyPC and HomePC "makes more sense," says Frank McPartland, VP-director of new media technologies, Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston.
"But keep in mind that people don't operate in isolation. The family-oriented computer books only can go so far," he adds.