Microsoft plots major global push

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With the acrimony of a landmark federal antitrust case behind it, Microsoft Corp. intends to reposition the brand with a soft-toned campaign portraying the behemoth as a company working to help people reach their potential, according to executives close to the matter.

A major global advertising campaign created by Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, San Francisco, will launch this fall, focusing on the softer side of Microsoft by positioning the software giant as an enabler of personal and professional creative potential. In recent weeks, Microsoft has filed numerous trademark applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the lines: "Your potential. Our passion." and "Your potential is our passion."

The Microsoft effort-and an expected global campaign this fall from Hewlett-Packard Co. that could exceed $120 million-indicate new vitality in the slumping tech ad sector, at least for the top brands.

Microsoft's push signals the first repositioning since 1994's "Where do you want to go today?," a tagline that extended to Microsoft's product brands, packaging and collateral material. The company several years ago began backing away from the line, created by former agency Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

A Microsoft spokesman said the company was preparing a campaign but declined to discuss details.

repositioning

The repositioning comes after more than two years of passionate discussion throughout the company, led by the Central Marketing Organization, about Microsoft's mission as PC growth rates slow, as it enters new businesses such as video-game consoles and as it bulks up existing ones such as the MSN Internet network and handheld wireless gadgets. It also comes as CEO Steve Ballmer is eager to put his mark on the business. Mr. Ballmer's friend, Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates, handed him the reins in 2000. The new campaign theme will express "Ballmer's vision of where the company is going," according to an individual close to the company.

The positioning will extend to how the company does business with customers and partners. But Microsoft will need to back the brand rhetoric with real changes in behavior. Strong-arm tactics against competitors may not fly anymore, though analysts maintain Microsoft is still throwing its weight around. Microsoft last November reached a proposed settlement with the U.S. Justice Department and nine state attorneys general in an antitrust case, though it continues to face litigation brought by other states on behalf of consumers.

other campaigns

In addition to the branding campaign, Microsoft also plans to launch a campaign for MSN 8.0; Xbox Live, an online videogame network; and another round of its business software advertising known as the Agility Campaign.

Even with so many campaigns in the hopper, Microsoft's overall ad spending is expected to remain flat. Microsoft spent $113.7 million in measured media in the U.S. from January through May and $471 million in 2001, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

Separately, Hewlett-Packard, following its shareholders battle over its acquisition of Compaq Computer Corp., has begun contacting business publishers and other media about a fall launch of a global campaign unveiling the new HP. Although HP is not believed to have locked down a budget yet, two media executives familiar with HP advertising said spending could exceed $120 million. HP declined to comment.

Optimedia, San Francisco, handles media; Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, is the lead strategic agency and develops creative. CMR figures show HP spent $122 million in the U.S. from January to May and $276 million in 2001; the figures are adjusted to include the products and services of Compaq, which HP bought in May 2002.

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