NEC IN MAIL-ORDER FRAY WITH $40 MIL DRIVE: MOVE CHALLENGES BIG 3 OF DELL, GATEWAY AND MICRON ELECTRONICS

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Packard Bell NEC's NEC Computer Systems Division today begins a $40 million advertising and direct-mail campaign restaging NEC as a direct PC marketer.

NEC, which has done limited mail-order sales in the past, now is going head-to-head against the Big 3 in mail order: Dell Computer Corp., Gateway 2000 and Micron Electronics.

Though NEC is changing strategies, it will stay with a planned 1997 media budget of $50 million, according to Kerry Zeida, the division's VP-corporate communications.

From now through yearend, the division expects to spend about $25 million on media, as well as $5 million on ad production and $10 million on direct mail.

COMPETITIVE SPENDING

The ad budget should be competitive with rivals' spending. The Big 3 direct players spent from $18 million to $23 million on print in the first half, according to ad tracker Adscope; spending in the second half typically is higher.

NEC's campaign starts with spreads in The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and spreads or four-page ad units in computer publications.

NEC also will run a Web campaign, limited radio and, later this month, direct-response-themed TV spots on an NEC-sponsored golf tournament on CBS.

Hampel/Stefanides, San Francisco, is handling the ad campaign and direct mail.

Print ads are packed with product specs and prices, but ads also position NEC as a technology innovator.

TECHNICAL EDGE

Matt Lake, the agency's senior VP-group account director, said NEC's global strength in developing technology differentiates the brand from Dell and Gateway, which primarily repackage technology from component suppliers.

"Dell doesn't invent anything," Mr. Lake said. "If you can match them on customer service but provide something above and beyond that, that's something quite powerful in the marketplace."

Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and other big PC makers are scrambling for ways to cut costs to emulate red-hot Dell. But only NEC, the business-to-business arm of No. 2 PC seller Packard Bell NEC, has jettisoned its own model-and dropped more than 8,000 PC resellers-in favor of a new direct approach.

NEC will retain about 300 dealers, and it still will sell a consumer line in electronics and computer stores. But NEC will sell its business PCs directly by phone, over the Web and through sales reps calling on larger customers.

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