Sharp Electronics Corp., in the strongest marketing support so far for a personal digital assistant, in mid-February rolled out its Zaurus with a TV spot from Griffin Bacal, New York. Sharp, which will apparently be the only company in the category to use TV this year, will spend $6 million on Zaurus advertising, but other companies from Panasonic Co. to Sony Electronics Corp. to Hewlett-Packard Co. to Motorola are beginning to look beyond marketing to technical wizards.
"Our target customer is still the business professional who uses a PC, but with our addition of [a version of the best selling checkbook software called] Pocket Quicken, we are just now seeing a break beyond that," said Randy Palmer, product manager for Hewlett-Packard. "You will see that reflected in our strategy."
Mr. Palmer declined to discuss his company's ad plans in detail but said a new campaign for the company's palm-top PC from Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, San Francisco, breaking soon, will step away from the current road-warrior positioning aimed almost solely at traveling businessmen.
Current personal digital assistants all can add communication capabilities. Otherwise, however, they are widely different.
Sharp's Zaurus and the Hewlett-Packard 200LX allow users to type in messages using a keyboard; Sony's Magic Link, Panasonic's Personal Intelligent Communicator and Motorola's Envoy use variations of General Magic's Magic Cap graphic-oriented operating system in which the only keyboard is one that can be displayed on the screen. Apple Computer's Newton and Motorola's Marco (based on Newton) also use a graphics-oriented operating system. BellSouth's Simon is a cellular phone that can display e-mail. Hewlett-Packard's palm-top is a small version of an IBM-compatible computer that uses MS-DOS software.
Widely different pricing is prompting some widely different hopes for this year.
Sharp, selling Zaurus at the $600 list its popular Wizard organizer began at several years ago, hopes to use advertising to take a leading role developing the category. But Sony and Panasonic, whose products will list closer to $1,000, see much slower growth.
"This year may be premature. Cellular phones developed over seven to 10 years and we see it as a long-term thing, building momentum," said David Yaun, a public relations manager for Sony.
Panasonic will support its effort with a print campaign from Grey Advertising, New York, due to break this summer.
While hoping for quick consumer adoption, all players are clearly mindful of Apple's 1993 experience in unsuccessfully marketing Newton to consumers.
Apple subsequently scaled back its product plans, changed Newton's management, refocused on narrower business applications and last January introduced a $599 version. Apple has drastically scaled back ad support, focusing mainly on print ads and business-to-business markets. BBDO Worldwide, Los Angeles, is Apple's agency.
Bradley Johnson contributed to this story.