In the winter of 2001, Dell’s Consumer public relations group and GCI set out to develop an ongoing outreach program that would help Dell’s Consumer Group re-brand itself to become “hipper” in the eyes of consumers and to increase their presence among consumer groups they had not reached in the past.
Historically, Dell has been described as a company with a successful business model that catered to both business and technology enthusiasts. This business model, though perfect for individuals, did little to attract the consumer market to the brand. And while this was not necessarily bad for Dell’s continued growth in enterprise hardware, Dell’s Consumer Group was faced with the challenge of extending Dell’s “tech-centric” brand to all different types of consumers.
Then came “Dude”. In July of 2001, Dell’s advertising agency, DDB Chicago, created the “Steven” character and armed him with the “Dude, You’re Getting a Dell” catchphrase that immediately put Dell in front of consumers. The key objectives were to: promote and extend the popularity of the “Dude, You’re Getting a Dell” catchphrase; reach a target audience of young, hip influencers in key markets; and establish a relationship/dialogue with consumer publications that do not have Dell or technology on their radar screens while not alienating Dell’s “core” audience of tech-savvy media and consumers. In the year since the “Dude” campaign launched, the Dell brand has enjoyed an image of a fun, consumer company while helping to drive sales of consumer products up 47% and garnering widespread media coverage across high profile outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” MTV’s “Total Request Live,” CNN, People Magazine, PARADE and more
The challenges were to establish the same brand reputation with college students, parents and women that Dell enjoys among the male-dominated tech-literate and business-savvy media by continuing the momentum of the popularity of the Steven advertisements; and to ensure preservation of the core sales markets (tech and business).
Dell and GCI conducted focus groups at the University of California at San Diego, Boston University and the University of Texas to get a sampling of student opinions on computer brands, technology and what they thought of corporations coming on campus (Key Findings: Students liked to receive free items, no matter if it is food, bags, or other branded materials).
The team then researched the universities located in key sales markets that Dell could reach out to (Key findings: Size of university was more important than size of market for a direct communications approach).
  In order to reach the other desired audiences, Dell and GCI conducted media soft soundings with consumer men’s, women’s and parenting media to see how Dell could get these groups into a room (Key findings: As expected, each group had issues that would have to be addressed separately).
Based on the research a three-pronged re-branding strategy was developed: Leverage success of Dude campaign to coincide with the series of popular holiday ad spots had just run; make a direct connection with a young, trend setting demographic and promote “Dude” brand directly with students to create a buzz around the key campuses and locations that were singled out from the research; and leverage PC EXPO’s location in New York and use the trend setting tech-focused show to demonstrate the company’s relevance to readers of key consumer and technology media, while also eveloping a series programs and product launches to attract hi-end women’s, men’s and parenting / family media.
The PR team set out to execute a media relations plan that focused on getting Steven and the Dell brand visible in high profile outlets considered cool with a young audience. The team began the program by pushing the actor who portrayed “Steven” to all hip and hot broadcast, media and print outlets such as the Tonight Show, MTV’s TRL and People Magazine.
It was also important to extend media out reach via national radio tour that used Steven as the centerpiece of a call-in giveaway program. Target outlets included stations such as “Mancow’s Morning Madness”, in Chicago, the leading show with young males.
The team executed a month-long tour of universities (UCLA, Boston University and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor) and three “hot” spring break locations (Pacific Beach in San Diego, Daytona Beach for Spring Break and Boulder, Colorado for Ski Break). At each location; execute direct marketing to 5,000 college students through a competition designed to encourage students to wear “Dude” logo T-shirts on campus. Each tour stop became the focus of a local media campaign targeting college press and local radio stations.
 In order to reach women’s media, GCI created an event that focused on the different roles technology plays in the lives of women. Titled, “Tech in The City,” the event presented an opportunity for Dell to introduce themselves to and interact with coveted women’s publications, but to also establish relationships with a group of women executives at well-known corporations, including SlimFast, JCrew, the Girl Scouts of America and Women in Film, who made up the panel discussing the topic. To moderate, GCI secured a high-profile moderator in Susan Lisovicz, host of CNN’s “The Biz” and Dell customer, to lead the discussion between attending media and panelists.
For the second event, the team chose to host an informal cocktail reception with Michael Dell, as a way of luring top editors at men’s, entertainment and business verticals to mingle with Michael Dell, who would be making an appearance. Continuing to play off the ad campaign, the event was named “Dude, You’re Getting Dell”.
GCI invited Dell’s core technology media these media to test out Dell’s latest products and spend time chatting with key Dell executives. And finally to reach parenting media, we used an established Dell product Know the Net, an online Internet training and assessment tool designed to introduce Dell as an educational tool three different audiences—children, parents and adults and K-12 teachers—through a breakfast reception with a website tour demonstration.
 Almost a year after the launch of the campaign, the “Dude” brand has resonated so well that competitors have referenced it in their own advertisements (Gateway) and in keynote speeches (Hewlett-Packard). More importantly, Dell’s consumer business has seen an increase in unit shipments of 47% in a time when the PC market is supposed to be slumping. The Dude Campaign has helped Dell’s consumer business become a $5 billion dollar operation, revenues that would make it a Fortune 500 company on its own. Success factors include:
Succees in garnering top-tier coverage for “Steven” and the Dude Campaign. Top-tier hits included “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”, “Total Request Live” on MTV, Us Weekly, People Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, TV Guide, “Mancow’s Morning Madness” syndicated radio show and more. Over 80 radio stations requested interviews with Ben between the months of May and July.
Through the marketing campaign, Dell was able to directly reach over 20,000 consumers with the Dude Gear and Dell from our Spring Break and University tour and help re-brand Dell as a hip, cool company with the college demographic.
At PC Expo, GCI succeeded in helping Dell reach its audiences, including men’s, women’s and parenting publications. For a two-day stay in New York during PC Expo, there was over 80 top-level media in attendance with coverage appearing in numerous outlets including BusinessWeek, Creative Classroom, Fortune, PARADE, the San Jose Mercury News and more. More importantly, Dell has maintained its relationships with the consumer markets the team targeted from the beginning: women’s, men’s and parents.
 Overall, the campaign garnered over 200 million impressions. And the relationships and success Dell had in the three initiatives above have truly solidified Dell as a widely identifiable consumer brand without losing any of its core audience.