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HP Is Going to the Super Bowl

An eye-catching spot during the premier sporting (and advertising) event can create a cultural icon. Hewlett-Packard hopes to capitalize

Riding on the success of a nine-month-old revamped marketing campaign, Hewlett-Packard is set to drop the big bucks on the year's largest advertising venue: Super Bowl XLI.

The PC maker, based in Palo Alto, Calif., expects to announce on Jan. 29 plans to run its first-ever ad during the event. While HP (HPQ) isn't disclosing the cost, in general the rate for a 30-second spot during the Feb. 4 game is more than $2.5 million. HP's ad is one of four new TV ads that are part of a larger campaign using the tagline "The computer is personal again."

The decision to advertise during the Super Bowl, which last year attracted an estimated 90 million viewers, follows HP's strategic move to broaden its marketing beyond ads promoting a particular product or a specific buying season, such as back-to-school (see, 5/04/06, "HP's Wow Factor").

Those kinds of ads likely wouldn't have much impact on the Super Bowl, says David Roman, HP's vice-president who oversees PC advertising. But HP's current ads lend themselves far better to a big sporting event, as they portray an overall look at what consumers can do with HP machines. "We're trying to convey a message that HP is making the experience (of using a PC) better and more exciting and enriching," says Roman.

"Very Effective Campaign"

HP's campaign has helped the company increase its market share in recent quarters, analysts say. Notably, the company grabbed the top spot from competitor Dell (DELL) during the third quarter of 2006, according to market researcher IDC. Most recently, in the fourth quarter, HP's worldwide market share grew to 18.1%, while Dell's dropped to 14.7%. "It's been a very effective campaign," says Roger L. Kay, president of consultancy Endpoint Technologies Associates. "It's been good at drawing attention to HP's products."

The Super Bowl spot, produced by San Francisco agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, is expected to run during the fourth quarter of the game. It highlights an HP customer, motorcycle-maker Orange County Choppers, and what it does with HP products. The voiceover notes that it uses HP machines to "search the Net for designs," "make videos for clients," and "download like a million songs." HP is betting that the futuristic graphics and colors in the ad will grab viewers. In Super Bowl advertising, "the creatives have to be an order or magnitude higher than regular ads, since the focus on it will be so intense," says Kay.

Even though the cost of the Super Bowl ad is a fraction of the hundreds of millions that HP will ultimately spend on the entire campaign, Roman still knows there's plenty at stake. "There's a lot of exposure, and there's a chance of not looking good," he says.

And how will Roman know if the ad was worth the money? In the weeks following the event, he'll be tracking clicks through HP's main Web page to a separate landing page featuring the Super Bowl ad and measuring sales from that page. He'll be scrutinizing how many times the ad is viewed on Google's (GOOG) YouTube and even monitoring how many times the ad is spoofed. Even if the spoofs aren't particularly flattering, "it doesn't matter," Roman says. "If people notice it, it becomes a cultural icon."

Lee is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau

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