Applied Materials plans $30 mil push

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In one of the first big branding splashes for a tech company this year, Applied Materials is launching an anticipated $30 million global campaign to establish its position as the company behind almost all semiconductors in use today.

The Silicon Valley company, which makes the machinery that makes computer chips, has seen a drop in orders as a result of the glut of chips on the market and the slowdown in demand for computer products. The company's incoming orders slumped 33% in its first fiscal quarter vs. the fourth quarter; its stock price is half the year-ago record price.

Still, the company is hoping to win over investors with a new branding effort, via agency Big Mouth, San Francisco. The campaign will break May 7 in Hong Kong and will be followed with a U.S. network and cable TVeffort starting May 14.

Aimed primarily at the investment community, spots use advanced editing techniques to show the ubiquity of semiconductors in all societies today. Ads are tagged "Information for Everyone."

The first spot shows a crowded shopping district in Japan and points out the number of microchips in the scene. In another spot, a high-end Porsche races around a track thanks to the microchips it contains. A third spot shows South American children leaving a school bus, again noting the semiconductors present.

The print effort includes shots of electronics vendors on a busy New York City street and executions of a Bombay supermarket and a baby in a hospital.

"This is the first of a multiyear venture to build the brand," said Mark Whitty, president, Big Mouth. "This is the biggest company you never heard of," he said. "The Internet would be a very different place without them."

With the tough economic times and Wall Street's recent displeasure with tech stocks, technology companies have slowed some of their branding activities.

Applied Materials is the company inside Intel; chip giant Intel Corp. is among its biggest customers, accounting for more than 10% of 1999 sales, but most other major chip manufacturers, such as Motorola, also rely on its manufacturing processes. Among its competitors are a host of companies, including Canon and Nikon Corp. Despite the ads' message pressing the company's ubiquitous hold on semiconductor manufacturing, some Wall Street analysts are concerned Applied Materials has the possibility of drawing the attention of antitrust authorities.

Applied Materials didn't return calls seeking comment.

Applied Materials' stock closed April 27 at $53.89, less than half its all-time high of $114.88 reached last April, but better than its 52-week low of $34.13.

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