PACKARD BELL PITCHES VALUE TO HALT HOME PC SALES SLIDE CABLE, NEWSPAPER CAMPAIGN SHIFTS 4TH-QUARTER AD $

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Packard Bell NEC begins a TV campaign and sweepstakes on July 15 for the Packard Bell line, hoping the former home PC leader can rebound from a sales slump by refocusing on value.

The new TV commercial was created by Packard Bell's promotion agency, B. Little, New York, and placed by Active International, Pearl River, N.Y.

SWEEPSTAKES EXTENSION

M&C Saatchi, New York, ad agency for the brand, and media buyer Western International Media Corp., West Hollywood, Calif., weren't involved.

Mike Gold, senior VP-advertising and corporate communications, said Packard Bell asked Little to execute the campaign as an extension of the sweepstakes promotion on which it already was working.

The media schedule will consist of cable TV and about 100 newspapers.

Packard Bell is shifting money from the fourth quarter to the back-to-school period, Mr. Gold said, with annual spending staying fairly even with last year. Packard Bell last year spent $11.2 million, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

The spending shift reflects a growing trend to focus home PC ads less on the holidays. No. 1 Compaq Computer Corp. this month begins year-round consumer advertising, doubling spending to about $50 million (AA, June 15).

NEW CHAIRMAN ON BOARD

Packard Bell's fourth-quarter plans aren't set. It's also too early to tell what effect the recent arrival of new Chairman Alain Couder will have. If Packard Bell produces a new campaign for fall, Mr. Gold said, "there's no question" it will come from M&C Saatchi.

The company turned to Active International to place the summer project because of its expertise in barter, Mr. Gold said. Packard Bell traded cash and surplus computers and parts for media time.

STRETCHING AD MONEY

Packard Bell is working hard to stretch money to cope with collapsed PC profit margins and a loss of Intel Corp. co-op ad money. For the past two years, Packard Bell relied on TV money from the chip supplier, which pays up to 60% of the cost of spots if PC makers include its "Intel inside" tag.

But Packard Bell for the first time is selling non-Intel PCs, relying on a less costly Cyrix Corp. chip to give it a $699 entry model, which the campaign is promoting.

The "Buy Smart. Get Smarter" sweepstakes will run through Sept. 15, offering a grand prize of a free college education ($55,000 toward tuition, or cash).

The spot shows a father frantically saving money for a PC by unscrewing lightbulbs and clocking the length of showers. The spot then suggests Packard Bell's low-price PC makes that unnecessary.

COMPAQ COMPETITION

Packard Bell's home PC lead crumbled last year when Compaq invaded the below-$1,000 market. Packard Bell's U.S. retail share dropped to 13.7% in April from 28.3% a year earlier, putting the brand No. 3 behind Compaq and Hewlett-Packard Co., according to ZD Market Intelligence.

"The first half has not been good for us," Mr. Gold acknowledged.

But with new products and better marketing, he vows Packard Bell will be the No. 1-selling U.S. retail personal computer in the second half.

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