CORPORATE CASE STUDY: PR leads Nvidia's quest to become a household name

Though its products are used by many, very few know the Nvidia name. As Andrew Gordon learns, the graphics-chip company plans a proactive, consumer-focused PR push to significantly build its brand.

Though its products are used by many, very few know the Nvidia name. As Andrew Gordon learns, the graphics-chip company plans a proactive, consumer-focused PR push to significantly build its brand.

Nvidia's future no longer rests in the hands of those who spend their hours shooting hoops, fighting dragons, or car-jacking motorists. The graphics-chip company made a name for itself in the $10.3 billion video-game industry, where state-of-the-art graphics separate the winners from the losers. But as much as that industry has helped make Nvidia one of the top graphics-chip technology companies in the world, it's not about to sit back and be content with the status quo. Although its technology is ever-present in video-game systems and PCs in most businesses and households, Nvidia itself is not a household name. But the company intends to change that, as Nvidia eyes everything from PDAs to cell phones. And it's focusing its PR at consumers, hoping to generate demand for hi-tech products with Nvidia's technology. And as more consumers demand Nvidia, more tech companies will want to partner with the graphics-chip company. "The reality of our industry is that we don't sell directly to consumers," says David Roman, Nvidia's VP of corporate marketing. "But our products are important to consumers. Graphics has become a key differentiating factor for consumers. So we want to communicate what Nvidia stands for, so that when the consumer looks for incredible graphics capabilities, they will look for products with Nvidia technology." Distinguishing itself in a crowded sector Nvidia finds itself in a crowded market, where it's competing not just against its main rival ATI, but also established chipmakers such as Intel and Texas Instruments, as well as smaller specialists. In its recent second-quarter report, the company showed a modest sales gain and a nice quarterly profit spike, thanks to increased shipments of Microsoft's Xbox, for which Nvidia supplies graphics processors. But Nvidia plans to move beyond its main business of providing graphics technology for PCs. The company is now going after the handheld market, a move highlighted by Nvidia's recent acquisition of MediaQ, which makes graphics chips for mobile devices for features such as taking pictures and playing games. If it plays the consumer game well, Nvidia stands to sell millions of chips as consumers crave cell phones and PDAs with better graphics capabilities. In order to enhance its standing in the graphics-chip market, and move beyond PCs, the company wants to make a name for itself so consumers look for products with Nvidia's technology, akin to what Intel did with "Intel Inside." The company is focusing on the key message of "cinematic computing," says Roman. "It's the concept that all images consumers see on their PCs and other hi-tech devices will have a cinematic quality to them." "It's about brand association," notes product PR director Derek Perez, of Nvidia's consumer PR ambitions. "It's more than what Intel has done. We strive for what Sony has done. When you see a Sony product, all you need to see is the brand name. You know Sony stands for quality. We want our brand to stand for compatibility, stability, and reliability. Brand association is very important. We're not just a hard-core gamers' brand." The move into handheld devices and a more consumer-centric mindset is a smart one, says Peter Coffee, technology editor of eWeek. The role of graphics - and the quality and experience people expect from graphics on their PCs and video-game systems - has dramatically increased, he explains. It's not just about video games and digital photographs, but also visual elements of operating systems, which is what Apple has done with the latest version of its OS, and what Microsoft wants to do with the next generation of Windows. Graphics technology is just as important to video games as it is to complex enterprise applications. As graphics capabilities become more important, particularly with the recent explosion in digital media, Nvidia hopes to capitalize on that importance by reaching out to consumers and developing a brand that resonates with that audience, says Coffee. As consumers begin to associate certain qualities with Nvidia's chips, and look for Nvidia-supported products, Nvidia will ultimately attract more partners who want to use its chips in their products. "It's not like doing PR for switchers or routers," says Roman of the graphics-chip market. "Our products end up with consumers. But we have to provide detailed technology PR, since we don't sell directly to the public. And this is an industry that has been very high-growth and very competitive." Building consumer enthusiasm Nvidia uses a number of strategies to reach its audiences. Perez says the company relies heavily on reviews, as its technology is enthusiast-driven. "Those enthusiasts tell two friends, who tell two friends, and so on," Perez explains. "Communicating with this community is important. It helps make the brand more recognizable. And as the early adopters and enthusiasts talk about our technology, that starts to trickle into the mainstream. Which is important, as consumers become more educated about computers and what kind of technology goes into them. We are starting to see more brand association, and not just among hard-core gamers." The company reaches out to those early adopters via technology-oriented websites, and even works with gamers directly, hosting LAN parties where groups of gamers can experience Nvidia's graphics technology firsthand. Nvidia also sponsors key trade shows, such as the Game Developers Conference and E3. The company recently split its PR into two divisions, product and corporate, to better reach divergent groups, whether its those early adopters who know Nvidia's technology well, or mainstream consumers who are just getting to know the brand a bit better. And this helps Nvidia evangelize to all audiences - why graphics technology is a key differentiator in consumer purchases, and why Nvidia's "cinematic computing" vision makes a difference. "We're helping paint a broader picture of what Nvidia does," says Donna Sokolsky, MD and cofounder of Sparkpr, which Nvidia hired in July as its corporate AOR. "We're helping them go beyond the gaming enthusiast, and helping show how people use this technology every day, and how their idea of cinematic computing brings movie-like quality to everything we see, whether it's on a PC or on a cell phone. "We're helping them communicate with the media, particularly the consumer press," adds Sokolsky. "The company has a very modest culture. They have not aggressively tooted their own horn." But the company intends to make a lot of noise in the foreseeable future. Roman says PR is the company's key marketing function, with little or no advertising, although Perez says that will likely change as the company begins to engage the public. But Nvidia's commitment to PR won't disappear. In fact, as the company embraces other hi-tech devices beyond video-game systems and PCs, PR will become more important than ever. Roman says it's not about deciding which is more important - PR that is b-to-b or b-to-c. Both are equally important, and if Nvidia is going to succeed, both have to happen in tandem. "As we face more and more of a consumer audience, and talk to mainstream publications, we bring partners along," explains Perez. "So if we're able to come in and talk to the media with someone like an Apple, Hewlett-Packard, or a Palm, it gives us more exposure. We benefit from those companies' brands. Those kinds of consumer brands help us reach out to consumers and the mainstream media. It's great for exposure." ----- PR contacts EVP of marketing Dan Vivoli VP of corporate marketing David Roman VP of IR and communications Michael Hara Product PR director Derek Perez Mobile products PR manager Diane Vanasse Consumer PR manager Carrie Cowan Desktop graphics PR manager Brian Burke Platform PR manager Bryan Del Rizzo Workstation PR manager Charlie Rasch PR specialist Loren Schaffzin European PR manager Andrew Humber Asia Pacific PR manager Hazel Heng Strategic PR consultant Calisa Cole Outside PR agency Sparkpr

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