Your Tax Dollars at Work: Compaq uses street tactics to spur federal sales.

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

For federal employees, Washington DC’s summer heat wave was business as usual. For Compaq Computers, it was a marketing breakthrough.

Compaq launched a guerilla attack on the military and other government groups to promote a sale timed to the government’s summer buying season. The campaign kicked off in early July when logoed vans began making stops outside government buildings, handing out bottled water to pedestrians wearing federal employee badges. A wrapper on each bottle says, “We’ve watered down our prices,” and gives a phone number dedicated to government buyers, 877-GO-GOV-GO.

Then a stunt plane buzzed Capitol City beaches dragging a huge banner touting the sale and phone number. It’ll fly over offices, trade shows, and Jack Kent Cooke Stadium when the Redskins start playing this month.

Vendors often run July-through-September ad blitzes to reach government groups, which hurry to spend the rest of their budgets before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30 and they lose any money not spent. But no one’s done such aggressive promotion.

“The government is an odd audience,” says Sharon Mitri, vp-creative director for E. James White Co., the Herndon, VA, agency handling Compaq’s campaign. “It used to be an old-boy network, but there have been more changes in procurement in the last five years than in all of U.S. history. It’s much more of a retail environment now.”

It’s also the biggest technology buyer in the U.S. – Mitri describes the government as a “Fortune 1 company” in computer equipment purchasing.

Compaq has been selling quietly to the government, but wanted to make a splash this year. White worked with Compaq last year on an ad for computer reseller GTSI, a White client. This year, it wanted a retail-style campaign tailored by government branch. “The obvious answer was guerilla marketing,” Mitri explains. “We designed [ads] to mimic retail” with headlines like “Major Sale” (Army), “Yard Sale” (Navy), and “Runway Savings” (Air Force). White raided its own staff for models – the hapless high-flyer on the stunt plane banner is junior art director Jason Berry.

“People are waiting for the next stunt,” Mitri concludes. “They’re talking about it up and down the federal hallways, and that’s what we wanted.”

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