Microsoft eyes ads in antitrust struggle with Justice Dept.

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Microsoft Corp. is considering a broad print ad campaign to tell its side of the story in its ongoing battle with government regulators.

Microsoft began to tell its story last week with a quarter-page advocacy ad in The New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Times and the company's two hometown Seattle papers.

Public-policy agency Bozell Sawyer Miller, New York, created the ad.

FROM LEADERS TO MASSES

Microsoft Exec VP Bob Herbold said Microsoft now is debating whether to continue with that limited campaign aimed at "thought leaders," or to launch a broad campaign aimed at a mass audience.

"It's an important issue, and we're deciding whether we go for it in the `advertorial' context or whether we go for it broadly in a different context," he said.

The U.S. Justice Department and rivals such as Netscape Communications Corp. are battling Microsoft over its moves to integrate an Internet browser with its Windows operating system, but Microsoft's ads will argue the big issue is being overlooked.

CENTRAL ISSUE IS INNOVATION

"The purpose is to bring focus to the central issue, which is innovation," Mr. Herbold said. "We're standing up to protect the ability of every company, including Microsoft, to innovate and continue to improve our products.

"Consumers want better products and they want innovation. That has been overlooked" in debates about Microsoft, he said.

Mr. Herbold said future subjects Microsoft may cover include the importance of a free market in developing new products; the role of innovation and integration of new technologies; and how consumers, not competitors, should be framing the debate about Microsoft.

FRAMING THE DEBATE

The ads are part of a broader initiative at Microsoft to frame the debate by jettisoning smaller controversies. For example, Microsoft last week relaxed rules that had required companies with a presence on its Internet Explorer "channel bar" to distribute that browser if they sent out CD-ROMs with Web content.

Partners, such as Walt Disney Co., now are free to put a Netscape browser on those disks.

While Microsoft now is using ads to tell its story, Mr. Herbold is careful not to criticize press coverage around the Microsoft debate. The company, he said, just felt that ads could be used to help tell its story.

Copyright April 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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