W2 to head up media efforts for '$100 laptop'

Waltham, MA: Humanitarian education project One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) has selected W2 Group to serve as the media relations and social-media marketing agency for its much-heralded "$100 laptop."

Waltham, MA: Humanitarian education project One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) has selected W2 Group to serve as the media relations and social-media marketing agency for its much-heralded "$100 laptop."

The nonprofit association is trying to eliminate poverty around the world by advancing children's education in developing countries. It has created a low-cost (about $150 USD now), low-power, and open-source children's laptop computer that can be linked to others via satellite or other mesh networking, allowing Internet access from one central source.

The OLPC will sell to governments, with Nigeria, Libya, Brazil, Argentina, and Thailand having already signed on. In mid-2007, 1 million units will go to each of the launch countries. The pricing goal is $100 per laptop, which the OLPC estimated will be feasible by 2008, after the initial wave of devices are disseminated to the participating countries.

The agency is in its first phase of a six-month, pro bono campaign, said Larry Weber, chairman of W2. The goal of the campaign is to reach out to as many journalists and influencers as possible to spread the word of the computer and the participating countries. The end hope is that the clamor will help impel other countries to sign on.

Weber said two different W2 divisions will work on OLPC: W2's Racepoint Group is working on establishing global awareness and highlighting the technology, while W2's Digital Influence Group is taking on social media to reach influencers.

W2 is positioning the story in three ways: moral purpose, which has to do with relieving poverty through education; technology, about the low cost of the computers, the specs, and how the product differs from anything on the market; and learning and education.

Weber said promotion will focus on Web-based and broadcast media like 60 Minutes. The agency has already shot b-roll for broadcast stories. Soon the campaign will produce PSAs with celebrities promoting OLPC, to run on YouTube and Google, a longtime partner of the project. The organization will also target traditional media like Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Harper's, and Esquire.

The project has been in the works since January 2005. It has been approved by the United Nations and has gained considerable press attention, including a front-page story in The New York Times on November 30. Not all of the commentary has been positive, however.

According to Reuters, Intel chairman Craig Barrett criticized the project in December 2005 and philanthropic tech legend Bill Gates likewise panned the effort, telling the Microsoft Government Leaders Forum in May 2006, "The last thing you want to do for a shared-use computer is have it be something without a disk ... and with a tiny little screen."

Regarding critics, Weber said, "We will have answers, but we are not going to pick any fights."

OLPC's position is that the computers themselves teach children how to solve problems and learn.

Walter Bender, the president of software and content/chief operating officer for OLPC, said in a statement that the nonprofit is grateful that W2 Group has donated it services. Weber has more than 20 years' experience working on projects for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"While we focus our energies on the delivery of the laptop to school-age children and their teachers in developing nations," noted Bender, "we need a savvy marketing partner to help us get the word out about why this initiative is so important and what the benefits are to the children, to their countries, and to the world at large."

The prototype is called the XO, and the first 1,000 laptops came off the assembly line in Shanghai on November 15. The computers are designed for rugged locations and feature a Wi-Fi connection, a speaker, microphone, a Web camera, and a screen that can easily be seen in the sun. They come with 128MB of memory, 512MB of storage, and run on the free Linux OS.

To save energy, the laptops have a built-in power-saving device that shuts off when it isn't processing.

OLPC is a charity created by computer scientist Nicholas Negroponte, best known as the founder and chairman emeritus of MIT's Media Lab. Other partners include AMD, eBay, News Corp, and Red Hat.

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