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OPTING TO BLEND IN WITH THE SURROUNDINGS; ACER, PACKARD BELL BECOME DECOR-FRIENDLY AS PCS MOVE INCREASINGLY FROM HOME OFFICE TO FAMILY ROOM

By Published on .

As computers become a part of the furniture, PC marketers are beginning to design them that way.

Computer penetration into the home, industry researchers project, soon will resemble that of TV's, VCRs and microwave ovens. In fact, 70% of households will sport home computers by early in the 21st century.

Those machines won't be relegated to the home office in the basement or upstairs; pundits predict that beginning this year, many homes will be outfitted with not only one but two PCs.

With that goal firmly in mind, some computer marketers are trying to make their boxes more decor-friendly. At least two companies*Acer America and Packard Bell*this fall have introduced computer systems that manage to make the utilitarian machine a bit more suited to the family room.

The marketing strategy, however, isn't to pointedly discuss the decor-friendly aspects of the product. Rather, Acer and Packard Bell have opted instead to show the products in use in their advertising and promotion efforts, letting the consumer notice the new look for themselves.

To announce its cyberdecor concept, Acer has revved up a $25 million-plus ad campaign from Lai Venuti & Lai, Santa Clara, Calif., to feature the lifestyle approach of the Aspire PC.

Print ads themed "Acer. Everything you Aspire to," are running in more than 38 mainstream publications this fall, including Architectural Digest, Bon Appetit and Business Week, as well computer books such as Home PC and FamilyPC.

The ads show a variety of people using the computer to demonstrate its ease of use and how it fits in with busy lifestyles. One print execution shows a senior using Acer Aspire, who says, "I surf with my friends in Orlando and Sun City." Another features a mother and son with the theme, "We shop for milk and animal crackers at 133 MHz."

But the color ads also show off Acer Aspire's design, enlivened by color from Frogdesign. The features: curved lines, less clutter, a TV-like monitor, a palmrest, computer voice-activation. The color choice: emerald green or charcoal.

"The idea was to come up with PCs that blend attractively with any home decor," says Jessica Kersey, PR director at Acer.

She notes that there's been increased demand for home PCs that "don't remind people so much of the office."

Packard Bell, likewise, isn't spelling out the design changes for its new line of design-friendly computers in its PR push.

But unlike Acer, relying primarily on color, Packard Bell's line relies on shape to prove its ability to fit into every home. The tower-like, tiny-size and triangular models are designed to be tucked into corners or small spaces, providing a family-friendly environment.

"With computers used for so many different tasks, there's a sense that consumers now want to be shown how PCs can fit into any room in the house," says Jeffrey Bil Huber, a designer who will be representing the line in a media tour arranged by Bohle Co., Packard Bell's PR agency.

Packard Bell isn't using advertising for the shaped PCs, instead readying a late-fall/winter PR push around the tour in which Mr. Huber will demonstrate how new homes are being designed with computers in mind.

"Packard Bell has always focused on bringing the latest technology to the consumer," says Mal Ransom, VP-marketing. "Now we are turning our attention to PCs that blend in with the consumer's particular interior design style."

An example is the company's new Slim Line, which is a streamlined unit measuring only 3.4 inches high by 16.3 inches wide and 16.3 inches in depth, looking more like a CD player than a computer.

There also is a wedge-shaped unit designed to fit into a corner shelving or desk unit, with disc drives on the right and left hand sides of the unit.

Packard Bell also has a new Designer Tower PC, for either floor or desktop installation, and its mini-tower has the motherboard stored in the base.

A button on the remote control allows users to initiate a phone call, retrieve phone messages, start the CD or radio, activate the TV or lets the user go direct to a software application.

Robert Ryan, senior editor-hardware at FamilyPC, says consumers are looking for functional designs in their computer.

"Families want computers that fit*physically and aesthetically," he says.

But whether lifestyle applications will be a hot selling point is still a question.

The products in stores since September*have seen no overwhelming rush, according to sales associates at Best Buy and Computer City Superstores.

"They're so new, the concept is so new, that many consumers have been startled to see machines in different colors, much less in cubes and triangles," says a merchandiser at Computer City.

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