The fledgling PeoplePC, in which Softbank Technology Ventures has a major interest, markets branded PCs -- Compaq or Toshiba -- for $24.95 a month over three years, with consumers also getting free Internet service via MCI WorldCom's UUNet, tech support and even in-home service.
After three years, the company will swap the old PC for a new one.
The units come with preloaded software and content coming from Yahoo!
While PCs are at the heart of the offer, the company's real pitch comes in the form of a platinum eCard -- in conjunction with First USA -- that dangles discounts before PeoplePC members on a variety of products and services they can buy online. They include online marketers such as CDnow, Amazon.com, iBeauty, E*Trade and Outpost.com.
PeoplePC hopes to leverage its membership-based business model and collective consumer buying power to offer what buying clubs such as Cosco and Sam's Club do.
In contrast to Free-PC, PeoplePC doesn't employ an ad-supported business model, instead partnering with online brands for discounts and other promotions.
The multimedia marketing effort by WPP Group's Conquest, New York, breaks with the first of four TV spots airing on Game 3 of the World Series on NBC and wild postings in seven metropolitan areas.
That will be followed by additional TV executions, newspaper ads and online ads. The ads use the tag: "It's for people."
TV spots hype what a great deal PeoplePC is and depict four kinds of people who could benefit from the offer.
In one spot, a guy comes to the end of his workout and can't hoist the heavy dumbbell. Voice-over says: "New computer, unlimited Internet access, deals on weight-lifting equipment and, oh, in-home service. Someone spot me."
One wild posting shows a young guy standing in a hospital emergency room with a broken arm and leg and the headline: "Peter@peoplepc.
com (psyched for 6 to 8 weeks of life online)." Peter's cast is signed: "Peter@peoplepc.com." Another features Earl, a burly auto mechanic and the headline: "email@example.com (knows good hardware)."
The "everyman approach" is at the core of PeoplePC's effort. "We want to build a people-centric brand," said Mark Barden, director of brand development for PeoplePC.
Ads direct consumers to sign up for PeoplePC via 1-800-PeoplePC or the company's Web site, www.peoplepc.com.
"Buying a computer and getting online and getting the most out of the experience of getting online is characterized by difficulty," said Mr. Barden. "We're going to make it as easy as possible for consumers at every single stage to buy a computer."
Mr. Barden said the goal is to rank among the brands considered stars in the customer-service arena, such as Southwest Airlines and Nordstrom.