How can a clunky, file-cabinet-sized computer with flashing lights and beeps that sound like Star Wars’ R2D2, get consumers to buy new computer equipment? In the case of Dell Computer, the hardware manufacturer ran a contest for the oldest PC in operation, which aimed to boost brand recognition and ultimately, sell more of its products.
How can a clunky, file-cabinet-sized computer with flashing lights
and beeps that sound like Star Wars’ R2D2, get consumers to buy new
computer equipment? In the case of Dell Computer, the hardware
manufacturer ran a contest for the oldest PC in operation, which aimed
to boost brand recognition and ultimately, sell more of its
Dell was hoping that its target market - small business owners with
antiquated computer equipment - would consider replacing some pieces
with updated Dell products. But even if the contest didn’t spark sales
directly, Dell wanted ’to break though the (advertising) clutter with
this program and hopefully become top-of-mind with the small business
customer,’ explains Andy Zmugg, managing supervisor of
Fleishman-Hillard’s Dallas office.
In return for donating the machine to the Computer Museum of America in
La Mesa, CA the winner would receive dollars 15,000 worth of
state-of-the-art Dell hardware during a ceremony at the museum. The only
caveat was that the winner had to provide proof of purchase and show
that the computer was being used for his or her business.
Zmugg’s firm heralded the contest debut on May 24 with a notice on
Dell’s web site and a news release posted on Business Wire.
It had sent hundreds of releases on May 19 to major business
publications, the business sections of daily newspapers and local
Then Fleishman-Hillard’s team, along with Dell’s small business
staffers, hit the phones. Since the entry deadline was July 26, ’we were
able to go for another two months pitching this story,’ Zmugg says. The
Fleishman-Hillard team suggested stories based on information gathered
from surveys contestants filled out, such as the old computers’
nicknames (Old Faithful, Reboot Bobby). It also notified local
publications about possible stories on contestants in their area.
USA Today and The Wall Street Journal vied for an exclusive on the
announcement of the winner. ’It showed that we hit a bull’s-eye,’ says
Marci Grossman, director of communications for Dell’s Home and Small
Business Group. Dell decided against USA Today because it ’wanted more
of a small business audience and we felt The Wall Street Journal reaches
that,’ Zmugg says.
The blinking, bleeping winner - a 1976 MITS Altair 8800b - was owned by
patent attorney John C. Shepard, who continued to use the machine to
print out forms for wills, patents and real estate transactions. Shepard
was enthusiastic about the event. ’He talked to tons of media,’ Zmugg
says. ’He was a good partner.’ The firm shot a B-roll package and
shipped it to TV affiliates across the country.
The press release announcing the contest drew about 40 placements in
daily papers, business journals and wire services, notably on the
small-business section of US News and World Report’s web site. Some 700
requests for entries poured in from businesspeople, 209 of whom entered
’We knew this contest had an impact on these small business owners, and
that they associate Dell as a small business provider, which was the
goal,’ Zmugg says.
Coverage of the museum ceremony ’went gangbusters,’ he brags. The WSJ
published its piece on the front page of the Marketplace section that
day. Every San Diego-area broadcast affiliate turned up, along with the
daily San Diego Union-Tribune and the Associated Press. In all, 38
newspapers and 13 broadcast affiliates across the nation picked up the
The campaign worked so well that Dell now refers to it as the benchmark
its other efforts must reach for.