By Published on .

Compaq ad executive Mark Rosen wants his consumer advertising to reach an equal number of men and women.

But Mr. Rosen isn't trying to be PC.

"It may look like we're trying to be fair, but we're trying to be smart," said Mr. Rosen, director of advertising at the world's largest PC marketer. Compaq Computer Corp., he explained, believes men and women have equal influence in home PC purchase decisions.

The computer industry increasingly is reaching out to women, recognizing the growing power they have in both home and business buying. Marketers like Compaq and Hewlett-Packard Co. are venturing into women's magazines. PC World has formed an alliance with Working Woman. Top home computer marketer Packard Bell Electronics is selling PCs in colors, in part to appeal to women's aesthetics.

But in general, computer marketers are trying to treat men and women the same-for good reason, a recent study suggests.

The study of perceptions about technology and computers, done earlier this year by Microsoft Corp. and IntelliQuest, an Austin, Texas, research firm, found remarkable similarities between the sexes.

Most men and women said they were not intimidated by computers. Women were somewhat more likely to say they felt at a disadvantage in talking to others about computers. But the sexes were in close agreement that technology can give them an edge in life.

"The sexes get equal satisfaction from computers, women are not more likely to feel frightened, and each sex ....[feels] equally stupid" when the computer doesn't do what it's supposed to do, said Karlan Witt, director of customer research at IntelliQuest. The sexes are "much more similar than people hypothesized in approaching this study."

So Packard Bell is justified in trying to sell to the household with marketing that appeals to both sexes. "We focus on the family," explained Fred Kern, VP-product marketing.

The Microsoft/IntelliQuest study was conducted in January, with 2,802 people answering a mail questionnaire.

In the business market, PC companies have long targeted the "influencers," the computer experts at companies who formally and informally shape what machines get purchased. PC sellers recognize the similar influence women can have on home PC purchases, even though men still buy the majority of home computers.

Packard Bell, for example, sought input from women in designing a special software program it includes to make PCs easier to use. Last year, Packard Bell also gave its PCs a more sculpted look and added interchangeable color panels to match home decor. Since Compaq introduced its consumer line in late '93, it has begun advertising in such women's magazines as Working Woman and Self. Compaq and agency Ammirati & Puris/Lintas, New York, select magazines and TV shows to make sure the marketer reaches an even split of male and female consumers. But Compaq uses the same creative-with moms and dads, and working men and women-to reach both sexes.

That's the same approach Compaq takes in its customer support message, training the experts answering phones not to talk down when customers-male and female-call with dumb questions.

To reach women in business, computer marketers use both women-oriented magazines and traditional business and trade titles. Hewlett-Packard this month for the first time included women's titles, such as Working Woman, in a laser printer campaign. The ad's focus is small business; Hewlett-Packard and its agency Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, San Francisco, recognize that includes many women.

PC marketers are focusing more on women largely because of the rise in sales of PCs into the home, where women arguably have more say over purchases than they do in business. Home PCs will account for 43% of the 22 million PCs sold in the U.S. this year, estimates International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass. And the home market is growing faster than business, suggesting women will play an even bigger role in the industry's sales in coming years.

An IntelliQuest media study last year found women influence 35% of business PC purchases. Most computer publications are heavily weighted toward men, forcing marketers like Compaq and Hewlett-Packard to supplement their media buys with other titles.

PC World, the No. 2 PC magazine, is weighing in with a solution. Its female readership has been stuck around 15% since the early '80s. So International Data Group's PC World and Lang Communications' Working Woman have formed an alliance whose first effort will be a special ad-supported section on software running this August in both titles.

Heather Martin Maier, PC World publisher for strategic alliances, sees this as a chance for her magazine and advertisers to reach more women. But PC World isn't changing its management-oriented editorial approach as it courts women readers, she said.

"It would be very presumptuous of us," Ms. Maier said, "to think of this as PC World Light."

Most Popular
In this article: