Silicon Graphics kicks off crucial product launch

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Silicon Graphics Inc. begins a $15 million global campaign today introducing a line of Windows NT computers, a critical launch as SGI rolls out its first machines based on mainstream technology.

SGI rose--and, more recently, fell--with powerful computers using homegrown chips and Unix software. SGI's proprietary machines now are threatened by cheaper rivals using mainstream components, so it has responded with a line built on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT and Intel Corp.'s Pentium II chips.

The six-month launch starts with spreads and eight-page ads in the U.S., Europe and Japan. Web ads and direct mail follow.


The campaign is the first from McCann-Erickson Worldwide, San Francisco, and is a "pretty close derivative" of the work McCann presented in its pitch last year for the account, said Patrick Tickle, director of corporate marketing.

The new Silicon Graphics 320 and 540 workstations, starting at $3,395, are cheaper than SGI's old machines but more expensive than some Windows NT machines from rivals such as Dell Computer Corp. SGI is betting its target--animators, art directors, engineers and other "visual computing professionals"--will pay a small premium over standard NT computers to get a box that carries the SGI brand and is configured to manage graphics.

Like Apple Computer with its iMac, SGI is using industrial design and color--slate gray with deep blue trim--to differentiate its wares from standard PCs.

Ads feature product shots and play up the key story: SGI took mainstream technology to create the first workstation designed to do graphics. "Metamorphosis," reads the headline in one ad.

SGI expects heavy sales initially to its existing customer base, but over time it hopes its shift to mainstream technology will draw in more customers. SGI will sell the machines via resellers, its sales force and, in the U.S., over the Internet.

A second McCann product campaign, for servers, is expected this quarter. Mr. Tickle said SGI has no plan at present for a corporate positioning campaign and instead is betting on product ads.


Even with its separate product campaigns, SGI is moving to put the emphasis on the "Silicon Graphics" brand. The new computers mark a shift away from product names such as Octane and Onyx2.

The change is "a bellwether of the overall branding direction for the company," Mr. Tickle said.

"We are definitely transitioning the company to a much stronger masterbrand strategy and moving away from proliferation of subbrands and product names."

Copyright January 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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