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Apple's golden marketing ticket

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is proving to be fertile ground for a high-profile marketing scheme for Apple Computer's iMac.

The film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is proving to be fertile ground for a high-profile marketing scheme for Apple Computer's iMac computer.

In the movie, Willy hid five golden tickets in Wonka Chocolate bars and sent them around the world. The golden ticket holders won a tour of the secret chocolate factory and a lifetime supply of Wonka chocolate.

The contest turned the world upside down. Candy stores became chaotic as kids and adults went crazy trying to find those golden tickets.

Apple is toying with a similar idea. Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs has plans to personally sign five golden tickets and place them in the boxes of five iMacs, one on five continents.

The winner will receive a new Mac of his or her choice each year for the next five years.

Promotions like the Golden Ticket are expected to generate a buzz and industry watchers say positive press is the key to the company's goal of boosting it back to profitability and gaining market share.

"Apple is really good at coming up with clever marketing, fun marketing," says Brad Johnson, tech editor with Advertising Age. "Something like Golden Ticket is not going to cost Apple much money. We're talking about giving away 25 computers over the next five years."

Johnson says the public relations value Apple will receive from the Golden Ticket promotion far exceeds the cost of giving away the computers.

Since Jobs announced the iMac back in May, it has been featured in and on the front cover of most computer magazines and even in mainstream pubs including Rolling Stone and Details.

But Johnson says don't let the hype overshadow the reality. In June, Apple's market share in computer stores was just 2 percent, according to ZD Market Intelligence."It's going to be a big seller because there is a demand in the Mac marketplace for the product, but is this the product that will shove Apple into the double digit market share?" asks Johnson. "We'll see."

Yesterday, Apple announced that more than 150,000 advance orders for the translucent machine have already been made. Along with the Golden Ticket promotion, computer resellers have come up with some nifty ideas of their own. iMacworld, the new iMac-focused Web zine, plans to hook up with San Francisco's CompUSA on Saturday to unveil an iMacworld-themed Volkswagen Beetle.

ComputerWare plans to open ten of its Bay Area stores at a minute past midnight on Saturday. So far, that store has received 625 preorders.

Johnson expects the iMac to sell like hot cakes during the first month, but he says Apple must sustain sales for an extended period of time. "Apple is a master at generating positive press for iMac," he says. "Now the trick for Apple is to turn the early momentum into a long term play for iMac."

Mac enthusiasts have also jumped on the promotion bandwagon by setting up a handful of iMac Web sites. iMac2Day.com plans to give away a free iMac, along with tee shirts, hats, hardware, and software.

NoBeige.com plans to launch an automated iMac Availability Tracker for consumers who have plans to buy the machine, but have yet to place an order. The tracker will be updated every 6 hours so consumers know exactly where to order.

No word on who will be driving the iMacworld-themed Volkswagen, but the car won't be gold.