Remember this? The mouse that roared

You might recall the sound of your first PC; the distinct hum of the hard drive powering up and whirring away as you perused Encarta or had the smiley-faced paperclip teach you to use Clip Art. Or at least that’s what they told you made all that noise. But was there really a little motor inside the big grey box? No, it was a very clever little mouse, because in 1996 homegrown computer manufacturer PC Direct pitched itself as the small but powerful Kiwi PC company who took on the big multinationals, becoming an iconic Kiwi brand of the tech era and winning the 1997 TVNZ-NZ Marketing Award for Consumer Products – Durable.

Founded by two 20-something entrepreneurs Maurice Bryham and Sharon Hunter—successful investor, philanthropist, now one of New Zealand’s best-known businesswomen—PC Direct was eventually sold to Nasdaq-listed US Office Products for $28 million and then on-sold to Gateway Computers before closing its operation in 2001.

PC Direct was able to remove significant cost from the supply chain by introducing domestic assembly of its PCs, but the very fact that it was a cheaper, domestically-produced alternative was turning away corporate clients. The 1996 campaign saw the brand push back this assumption and introduce itself as a solid contender in the corporate market.

Even before the campaign, PC Direct was the largest direct seller of PCs in New Zealand, but perception studies showed corporate buyers viewed the company as inferior to the market’s big players like Apple, Compaq and IBM (which had, incidentally, used an elephant in a campaign not long before).

The mouse hopped in the ring to fight the perception that its products were cheap, poorly tested and not robust enough for corporate use.

The campaign worked to reinstate the brand’s credibility, emphasising its strengths in product hardware, service and customer support, price and speedy distribution. The company was pitched as a local manufacturer with the ability to swiftly introduce new technology (where multinationals may have been stuck with old stock) and develop strong support services through its direct-seller structure. By cutting out the middleman, the company eliminated long wait times for stock—the industry standard was 12 days, and PC Direct was able to reduce this to just three or four days.

Increasing sales was not the only objective. PC Direct aimed to introduce a price premium over its domestic competitors while maintaining a solid price advantage over multinational competitors. This maintained the brand’s price advantage while reinforcing its credibility as a domestic producer.

The company set a target of increasing market share by 3-4 percent over the next three years, with a corporate sales target of $100 million in the same period.

Results after the first year were more than pleasing:

  • Direct desktop market share rose from 7.96 percent to 8.67 percent
  • Unit sales rose 3 percent
  • Revenue rose by 15 percent
  • These gains were made while unit sales in overall market slipped 3.4 percent and total revenue fell by 4.4 percent

Perhaps most pleasingly, marketing leader Rowan Schaaf said that following the campaign, his team found they no longer needed to sell the brand before being given the opportunity to sell the product – the mouse had spoken. And while PC Direct may have shut shop, the mouse remains a fond memory of the Kiwi tech age.


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