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Faced with a mid-March debut of the rival PowerPC computer chip, Intel Corp. on Feb. 22 launches its largest campaign ever, an estimated $15 million effort for the premium Pentium chip.

The campaign, running through the second quarter, will be supported by in-store merchandising and retailer co-op ads, all intended to get people to seek a Pentium chip when they pick a personal computer.

Intel's 486 family is still the chip of choice for most PC buyers, but Intel historically promotes its premium chip early in the product life cycle to get the market to trade up.

Intel will face a new challenger next month with PowerPC, developed by Motorola, IBM Corp. and Apple Computer. PowerPC bows March 14 in a new line of Apple Macintoshes.

In addition, rivals Advanced Micro Devices and Cyrix Corp. are pushing 486 clones, making it important for Intel to move the world to the proprietary Pentium. Intel, the world's largest chip marketer, expects Pentium to become its top seller next year.

The campaign starts with a 30-second spot on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" on NBC and "Late Show With David Letterman" on CBS, as well as an ad in The Wall Street Journal. Dahlin Smith White, Salt Lake City, created the campaign, which will run on network, syndicated and cable TV, with spreads in business, computer and consumer magazines ranging from National Geographic to Wired.

Intel began advertising to computer buyers in the late 1980s, and extended its reach in the fourth quarter by offering co-op ad dollars to retailers and sending "detailers" into stores to look after Intel displays. Intel in early March will return with interactive Pentium PC displays and point-of-purchase materials.

The new ad campaign doesn't mention PowerPC, which takes dead aim at Pentium.

"We don't do competitive campaigns," the spokeswoman said. "There would be no reason to."

Actually, Intel did find a reason to mention PowerPC in a smaller campaign that began last week in Macintosh publications. With Apple forcing Macintosh customers to choose between the existing Mac line and new models featuring PowerPC chips, Intel is trying to convert Mac users to Pentium PCs.

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