MOSCOW — IN a nation where the abacus is still widely used to add and subtract, an American high-tech giant is trying to introduce the personal computer into the equation.
Apple Computer Inc. launched a publicity blitz in late May, signaling the company's bid to capture the fledgling Russian market with its "user-friendly" products, particularly the Macintosh model.
"Russia is undergoing fundamental changes and is making critical choices about technology," Brian Keating, general manager of Apple's Russian marketing operations, told journalists. "It took 10 years for Apple to become the best-seller in the Western world. We hope to do that here [in Russia] in half that time."
Personal computers are still rare in Russia. Communist authorities in the former Soviet Union did not encourage development of a domestic PC industry, fearing that the new technology would threaten their monopoly on information.
The Russian market also was closed to American computermakers until 1991, when the United States Congress lifted cold war-era trade restrictions on many high-tech products. Since then, competition among American companies has been low key, due in part to Russia's economic crisis.
But Apple officials say now is the time to try to break away from the pack. It already has established a distributor network in about 20 cities and is using Russian specialists to develop software for local use.
Apple's relatively low-cost computers could have several important applications in economically depressed Russia - especially in education and job retraining - which would help hasten recovery, company officials say.
"We are well positioned. The key is getting [information] out on what the Mac [Macintosh] can do," says Nancy Joyce, head of Apple's education division in Russia.
The cornerstone of the computermaker's advertising campaign is a TV commercial, known as "1984 Redux," based on the George Orwell novel. The abstract, 60-second spot, introducing the Macintosh computer line, was aired once in the US. It was shown on all major Russian television channels throughout the day on May 27.
But feedback on the commercial indicates that Apple may need to alter the way it reaches out to people here. Several Russians who saw the spot said they did not understand it. Advertising here perhaps is not ready for the soft-sell approach, in which the product itself is not featured in a commercial.
Apple officials admit that, at a time when many Russians are struggling to afford basic food items, it is too early to talk about putting a personal computer in every home.
"We're not trying to go out into the countryside and tell people `buy a Quadra,' " says Marketing Services Manager Betsy Heafitz, referring to Apple's top-of-the-line model. But at the same time, there is demand for computers in government agencies and newspaper publishing.
"It could revolutionize Russia. It's all up to the Russians," Ms. Joyce says of the computerization process. "As the revolution begins, we're here to help."