While Microsoft claims Explorer 3.0 is superior to Netscape Communications Corp.'s Navigator, some industry analysts say Explorer is equal to, not better than, Navigator 3.0, due out in a few weeks.
Microsoft, which claims less than 10% of the browser market, is counting on marketing to create the perception of superiority and the momentum critical to beating Netscape.
"Despite the big name, we are still David to Netscape's Goliath," said Yusuf Mehdi, group manager in charge of Internet Explorer marketing. "But 3.0 really is the starting gun for us."
For the first time since dramatically reorienting the company to the Internet last December, Microsoft is putting marketing money behind a browser campaign. More than half the $5 million will go to print ads, starting this week in major newspapers and selected computer and business magazines.
"Now you can find out what freedom really means," says a headline in three-page magazine ads.
The rest of the budget will go for an ad effort on the Internet, Microsoft's biggest Web ad campaign to date, Mr. Mehdi said.
CKS Partners, Cupertino, Calif., created the print and Web ads; Anderson & Lembke, San Francisco, handled media. Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., will create future Explorer ads.
Microsoft also did deals with high-profile sites-including The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, ESPNET SportsZone, CNET and the new NetGuide Live-to showcase features. The company is staging a "midnight madness" promotion on the Web tonight offering T-shirts and a chance to win a Micron Electronics PC.
Netscape, meanwhile, still is focused on Web-based ads, though it has recently stepped up advertising in some business-oriented computer trade magazines, via Creative Media, San Francisco.