MICROSOFT'S FALL ADS STRESS THEMES OF EMPOWERMENT

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Armed with what executives say is a more "focused, integrated vision," Microsoft Corp. is looking to sharpen its message in a new fall campaign.

The ads, via new agency McCann-Erickson/A&L, New York and San Francisco, center on the theme of empowering businesses and consumers with the software tools that enable "Anytime, anyplace and on any device" access and ease.

Microsoft will back the highly integrated effort, which includes business offerings such as Microsoft Outlook, Windows 2000 and Office 2000, as well as consumer products and overall brand image with an estimated $300 million budget in the U.S.

OVERALL BRAND MESSAGE

Microsoft is expected to spend about $150 million on TV to support business-related offerings alone, starting in November. The ads also will inject an overall brand message. The "Anytime, anywhere, any device" theme was trumpeted earlier this year at Comdex, and will figure prominently in the empowerment approach.

"Over the past five years, what we've been doing is basically communicating to people that Microsoft software leads the way in providing new ways to think and communicate," said Bob Herbold, Microsoft exec VP-chief operating officer. "The tools are becoming pervasive enough that they're virtually touching everybody's life."

With the proliferation of devices -- computers, cell phones, palm-size organizers -- niche segments are emerging, and the challenge is how to share information wirelessly, he said.

Microsoft has already begun leveraging the message of empowerment in business productivity ads now running. Corporate image ads backing the Microsoft brand will lock in the empowerment theme. Whether the aspirational "Where do you want to go today?" tag, created in 1994 by former agency Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., will remain a fixture remains an open question. "It's too early to say," said Mr. Herbold.

INTEGRATION IS THE KEY

The key to the new campaign, he said, is integration: "We'll have TV advertising related to business offerings, which will be integrated into trademark advertising for the Microsoft brand, and a consumer element."

Meanwhile, Microsoft has been taking steps to refocus its faltering Internet strategy and last week announced a joint venture with Ford Motor Co. to bolster CarPoint, its online auto Web site.

With Ford, Microsoft plans to make CarPoint the first online build-to-order car-buying system. CarPoint will eventually link suppliers, manufacturers, retailers and distributors to offer a host of services. The joint venture points further to Microsoft's rumored interest in spinning off, or at the very least seeking partners for, content properties outside its realm of core expertise.

Microsoft has put advertising for Expedia, its full-service travel site, into review. In July, Microsoft sold its Sidewalk online city guides to Ticketmaster

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