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Apple Computer and BBDO Worldwide decided to let their fingers do the talking.

In the latest "celebrity" interactive forum on Apple's new eWorld computer online service, Michael Markman, Apple's director of worldwide corporate advertising, and Steve Hayden, chairman of Apple agency BBDO in Los Angeles, chatted via Macintosh computers for an hour last week with about 40 Apple owners, employees and interested observers.

The virtual meeting shows a new way for a marketer and agency to keep close to the customer.

In simpler terms, online celebrity sessions bring the talk show genre into the computer age, with a host conducting an interview, the audience typing in questions and guests pecking out responses. Since eWorld was introduced in June, guests have included Phil Dusenberry, chairman of BBDO in New York; TV commentator John McLaughlin; and musician Steve Isaacs.

Almost a virtual focus group, the forum showed Mac users' intense opinions on what Apple does right and wrong in advertising.

One audience member said ads for Apple's PowerBook notebook computer weren't techy enough. Another spoke of Apple's "Power to be your best" slogan in the past tense, unaware that Apple still spends millions of dollars on ads including the line. A third suggested Apple do more advertising of Newton, Apple's slow-selling personal communicator.

Asked how Apple intended to compete this fall when rivals, such as Intel Corp. and Compaq Computer Corp., will together put more than $100 million into advertising of PCs using Intel-type chips and Microsoft Corp.'s Windows software, Mr. Markman responded: "As we always have done. With spectacular, irresistible creative from BBDO."

Mr. Hayden said Apple's superior product and targeted media "make our smart dime better than their dumb dollar."

"Sometimes I think for Microsoft and Intel, it's all about money and only money," Mr. Hayden said. "For Apple, it's about the user's experience and putting passion into our products."

Mr. Markman characterized as "wild speculation" a report in "some trade mag" about problems on the Apple account, a reference to Advertising Age's Aug. 22 story headlined "Apple may be ripe for $150 million review."

"It's a non-story," he said. "The account is not ripe for review. Period. BBDO and Apple aren't working up a review. We're working up a campaign."

The story, Mr. Markman said, "makes you wonder if the only parts of the paper you can trust are the ads."

The story was based on an interview in which Mr. Markman, asked about major restructuring and staff changes at BBDO, appeared to hedge about offering an unequivocal endorsement of the agency.

In a phone interview the day after the eWorld session, Mr. Markman said the story was "a distortion of what I clearly said."

"We have an agency [BBDO]. We have a relationship with the agency. It's a solid, productive, award-winning relationship. We're not changing it. We're not thinking of changing it. If the time is `ripe' for anything, it's for continued great work, incisive campaigns and strategies that keep our competition off balance," he said. "And the agency that will deliver this to us is BBDO."

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