MICROSOFT SCHOOLS VIEWERS ON ITS VALUES: NEW SPOTS SOFT-SELL ADVANTAGES OF USING TECHNOLOGY

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Microsoft Corp. goes back to school this week with the latest chapter of a TV brand campaign intended to promote the soft virtues of a hard-charging company.

New spots focus on how students and teachers benefit from technology at Maxwell Middle School, a working-class school in Tucson, Ariz., that boasts an unusually high 400 computers for 600 students.

The "school community" spots complement Microsoft's "family/home community" ads -- vignettes from tiny Lusk, Wyo., that began airing in December -- and a series of spots profiling Microsoft employees that began in September.

Late this spring, Microsoft will finish the package with a series of spots about a "business community," likely to tie into the launch of the Office 2000 software application suite.

$130 MIL GLOBAL EFFORT

Microsoft will spend an estimated $130 million globally in the fiscal year ending June 30 on TV brand advertising, with the bulk of the money being spent in the U.S. Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., created the brand campaign.

The school work debuted March 7 and will get broad play starting midmonth during the NCAA college basketball tournament on CBS. After a solo run, Microsoft then will rotate in the employee spots and possibly the Lusk ads.

Four spots, reminiscent of the warm Lusk campaign, show how students are gaining an advantage by using technology deployed across the school.

"Technology is a tool," says the voice-over in the launch spot. "Software is a tool. When you give kids tools, you give them choices, and that's the best reason we can imagine to make software."

BELIEVABLE CHARACTERS

The three other spots profile entirely believable people: two committed teachers and a Mexican-American boy who is using a PC for a report on Mexican history. The Microsoft software used in classrooms gets a cameo appearance.

"Technology is giving Jose a way to study his heroes, and maybe someday he can become one himself," says the copy, voiced by actor Jeff Daniels.

Eric Koivisto, Microsoft's director of advertising, said Microsoft and the agency looked at 200 schools before settling on Maxwell, which has been written up nationally in education journals for its deployment of technology. Maxwell uses Compaqs running Windows 95 and Windows NT. It also has some Apple Macintoshes; Macs don't get TV time in Microsoft's ads.

Mr. Koivisto said the campaign, aimed broadly at consumers, is meant to portray the good that comes out of Microsoft products. "We are creating tools that help people do amazing and practical things," he said. "We want to paint that picture in an inspirational way." The campaign will help people "understand what kind of company we are, what kind of brand we have."

BRAND ADVERTISING

Microsoft is using brand advertising to make the company more "approachable," but Mr. Koivisto said the new campaign is "not really" influenced by or intended as an advertising antidote to the bashing Microsoft has taken in the Justice Department's antitrust case in Washington.

"By no means is it meant to address or refute or respond to anything that's going on, let's say, on the Eastern seaboard," he said. "We know what we're doing [in advertising] works, and we also know it works with consumers.

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