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Feel The Buzz

Feel The Buzz

You'd think it was the computer industry's centennial celebration. On Aug. 24, Microsoft Corp. will unleash its long-anticipated Windows 95 operating system--and with it a marketing and advertising blitz that could make Revlon blush. Experts estimate computer-industry spending will reach an unprecedented $1 billion in the next four months, as everyone from Compaq Computer Corp. to Coca-Cola Co. gets in on the Win95 act.

Get ready. The buzz could be deafening. There will be a fusillade of Win95 television and print ads and related marketing hoopla. Microsoft says it will spend up to $200 million over the next year. Among its jazzier riffs: a 30-minute, network prime time "info show," starring E.R.'s Anthony Edwards and Microsoft Chairman William H. Gates III. There will be oodles of promotions, including Cracker Jack boxes packing Win95 prizes and discounts on plane tickets with the purchase of the new PC operating software.

ELVIS EFFECT. The hype won't be limited to the U.S. In Britain, Microsoft will paint fields with giant Win95 logos for viewing by plane. In Paris, it's throwing a bash for 7,400 in the Palais des Congrs. In Toronto, it is unfurling a 300-foot Win95 banner down the city's tallest building, the CN Tower. Says Alan C. Bush, president of the Computer City retail chain: "It's going to be like Elvis showing up at Graceland after three months notice."

Behind the pomp and circumstance, though, lies a campaign fraught with challenges. Microsoft isn't just shipping a new product to store shelves and stoking demand. As Windows goes, so goes the PC industry, which will spend $1 billion by Christmas hawking new PCs, software, and peripherals that take advantage of Win95. Ensuring that those products reach stores on time meant months of working with manufacturers.

Corporate customers have been wooed, too. Over the past six months, Microsoft gave away 10 million demo disks of the program, tested the product with some 400,000 customers, and completed a 23-city tour in which Win95 was shown to 40,000 people. Why? Getting corporations to upgrade will be tougher than convincing home users.

By any measure, this will be a record-setter for the already hype-prone tech industry. Microsoft is expected to sell 29 million copies of Win95 by Christmas and 63 million copies next year, according to Dataquest Inc., compared with 33 million copies of Windows 3.1 in 1994. PaineWebber Inc. analyst Michael A. Kwatinetz figures Win95 momentum will boost worldwide PC sales dramatically: Growth should hit 20% this year and next, several points higher than previously anticipated. Add in other software sales--he estimates an average of $300 extra will be spent by Win95 buyers--and the total gold mine could be $20 billion in hardware and software revenues over the next year.

The publishing industry is already knee-deep in its own Win95 campaign. By early September, some 450 Win95-related books will hit store shelves. And computer trade publications? Eric Hippeau, chairman of Ziff-Davis Publishing Co., says his magazines have landed 1,984 pages of extra ads in the U.S. because of Win95, pushing the total for the year up 5.5%.

Retailers also expect a bonanza. The $209 operating software (or $109 for customers upgrading from Windows 3.1) will be in 20,000 stores come Aug. 24, including Wal-Marts. Many of them will take part in "Midnight Madness," opening stores at midnight on Aug. 23 for 95 minutes to sell the first copies of Win95.

"A HAPPENING." But the real fun begins the next morning. The company will host launch events in 40 U.S. cities--from a shindig for 2,000 at the Las Vegas Luxor Hotel to an all-day "fun fest" for 4,000 at Great America's theme park in Silicon Valley. In Chicago, Microsoft is creating a World's Fair atmosphere at Navy Pier with pavilions, carnival games, and a special run of 5,000 Cracker Jack boxes containing key chains and coupons for free PCs. For techies, the company plans an elaborate online launch event.

Then there's the company's prime time "info show," featuring Windows users, from students in Appalachia to the Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil. And, natch, Chairman Gates will give his vision of computing. The show will air on Aug. 27 and Aug. 28. The $5 million production and air-time cost will be shared by Microsoft and sponsors Coca-Cola, Kodak, Compaq, and CompUSA. Explains spokesman Bob Bertini of Coca-Cola's involvement: "This is a happening."

To say the least.