Office 97 launches Jan. 16, flanked by a print campaign in business and computer publications from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore. Between now and January, Microsoft will run pre-launch ads to build momentum.
The new version adds Internet features to Office's word processor, spreadsheet and other programs.
Reflecting the business user target, Microsoft will rely on print and Web ads but not TV. Microsoft's current TV branding campaign, though, includes passing reference to Office 97.
"This will be the largest marketing effort ever done" for Microsoft applications, said Robert Bach, VP-marketing of the desktop application division, in an interview at the Comdex Fall computer show last week.
He said spending will be up 40%-to-50% over last year's Office launch. Based on figures from ad tracker Adscope, that suggests a $13 million-to-$14 million launch.
The product is critical: Office 97, which runs on Windows 95, is the flagship of the Microsoft Office line. That segment commands more than $3 billion in annual revenues and accounts for more than 84% of the market for suites of business productivity software, according to market researcher Dataquest.
If it were a stand-alone venture, Office would be the world's second-largest PC software company-behind Microsoft.
The company is going after new customers and current users it can upgrade. Mr. Bach said Microsoft expects to sell upgrades to 40% to 45% of the current 27 million Office users within 18 months.
Buyers of Office 97 will become part of a potentially controversial new initiative. Over the Internet, Microsoft will monitor how customers use the product and then periodically e-mail tips, information on updates and promotional messages.
It's a way for Microsoft to build relationships and add value. But the idea of Microsoft somehow monitoring how customers use its products could fuel critics' claims that Microsoft is getting too powerful.
Mr. Bach said Microsoft won't contact Office 97 customers unless they indicate interest.
Basic information about products, tools and tips will account for "the vast majority" of the direct e-mails. These are "things that you're interested in" if you use the product, Mr. Bach said.
Over time, Microsoft plans to expand this initiative to other Microsoft products.
OTHER SUITE DEALS
On the suite front, IBM Corp.'s Lotus Development Corp. in January will release SmartSuite 97, undercutting Microsoft on price.
Corel Corp., which bought and resuscitated Novell Inc.'s WordPerfect this year through aggressive pricing and marketing, now is segmenting the market with versions of Corel Office targeting lawyers, doctors and the construction industry.
Jeff Hunsaker, director of product marketing, said Corel in January will go on a 20-city U.S. road show.
Corel handles its decidedly unslick advertising in-house. Mr. Hunsaker acknowledge the advertising doesn't have the polish of its rivals.
"It's working," he said. "We're going to continue until it doesn't work."