How Hewlett-Packard Got Its Groove Back
By Corey Hajim

(FORTUNE Magazine) – After a recent Apple campaign portrayed PC users as dweebs, Hewlett-Packard fought back with a series of ads in which Jay-Z, Pharrell Williams, and Olympic gold- medal-winning snowboarder Shaun White lent the company’s PCs some street cred. The campaign, the brainchild of two Apple alums, is not just hype. In the third quarter, HP’s computer-shipment growth of 14% even beat Apple’s 12%.

“Today to be hip, you’ve got to be real,” says marketing communications VP David Roman, who managed the campaign together with HP’s personal systems group SVP for worldwide marketing Satjiv Chahil. They set out to market the company’s products by signing up “achievers” who were actual HP users to share what was personal on their computers. In one spot Jay-Z (shot from the waist to the neck) shows off a vacation photo, a Rocawear shoot, and plans for a basketball stadium in Brooklyn. Shaun White flashes his MySpace page, a music playlist for riding, and snowboard graphics. “Those guys have been steppin’ up,” says White, whose new house is being decked out with HP gear. “They’re awesome!”

It’s not just the Flying Tomato who likes what he sees in HP’s new products. Recently, HP squeaked past Dell as the top PC vendor in terms of worldwide shipments, with 15% growth over 2005, vs. Dell’s 4%, according to IDC. Another sign of the campaign’s penetration is that it has already been parodied—YouTube runs a spoof featuring Steve Jobs.

Using celebrities to build a brand is not without risk. “There is a big danger in connecting to a celebrity. All of a sudden their fame can plummet, or they do something not so great,” says Robyn Waters, author and trend watcher. “The branding world has been strewn with mistakes like that.” Undaunted, HP continues to roll out the red carpet. The next batch of spokes-users include designer Vera Wang, Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, director Michel Gondry, and the ultimate multitasker, Kris Kringle, who uses his HP to track his trip from the North Pole, store his lists (checking them twice), and keep watch on who is naughty and nice. Memo to self: Turn off that webcam.