News feature: How Intel became famous

News feature: How Intel became famous

Intel was once mired in obscurity but a combination of an innovative brand push and marketing campaign enabled changed all that

It is hard to imagine that a famous company such as Intel was once mired in obscurity, but a combination of an innovative brand push and marketing campaign enabled the corporation to become one of the most recognised businesses in the world. How did Intel manage to pull it off? The answer is Intel Inside.

Intel is a household name and one of the most recognisable brands in the world, but there was a time when neither the company nor its products were seen as very exciting.

It is not hard to see why: Intel’s bread and butter has always been its microprocessors, which itself form only a part of a computer. It is true that Intel’s CPUs form an important part of the overall PC architecture, but they are just a part nevertheless.

While Intel was doing well for itself since the advent of the PC, the reality was that processor awareness was not particularly high among mainstream consumer buyers until 1981 and the first IBM PC. And, even then, companies such as Intel were perceived as “just another” tech vendor with “just another” PC part in its product portfolio.

This is a contrast to the way things are now, where public awareness of CPUs is higher than ever before, and Intel is viewed as a company that is as hip as it is cutting edge.

Intel’s reinvention can be traced back to when the vendor launched its milestone Pentium and Pentium Pro processors in the mid-‘90s. This era was significant in that the Pentium technology finally took the computer from the corporate environment to the consumer in the home, and on many levels ushered computing into the mainstream. Intel knew that with the Pentium processor it would need to target consumers and businesses, and with the Pentium Pro it would be workstations and servers for the enterprise, but the only question remained how.

The answer would be Intel Inside, an innovative marketing campaign that was designed not only to put the Pentium chip on the minds of consumers, but the Intel corporate brand as well.

Television commercials formed the brunt of the marketing push, which would always end with the Intel logo and a five-tone melody. The now recognisable “Intel tone” was introduced in 1995 and has remained with the company ever since.

The commercials also had a knack for employing unique visual motives that seemed almost uncharacteristic for a large corporation such as Intel, and this creativity seemingly came to a head in 1997 during the promotions for the Pentium MMX and Pentium II processors.

Dubbed as the “Bunny People” commercials, they were developed by Intel’s Salt Lake City-based advertising agency at the time, Dahlin, Smith and White, whose innovative campaigns for clients made it worth about $128 million.

The commercials stood out on the cluttered advertising landscape on TV by depicting Intel technicians in “bunny suits” (protective clothing that is worn in the area where the microprocessors are assembled) performing coordinated dance routines.

Outlandish commercials

The commercials were outlandish, unexpected and incongruent for a serious corporation such as Intel, and it was for those exact reasons that the campaign immediately resonated with the public.

According to Intel Asia-Pacific brand strategy and integrated marketing director, Jayant Murty, the Bunny People campaign aimed to transform a PC part that people took for granted into something that was exciting.

“The commercials were stylised to having a bit more fun, and branded with Intel Inside as a reminder that Intel makes a critical part inside the computer that brought fun and energy to your life,” he said. “We were in some ways also celebrating the ‘awesomeness’ of our people that made this technology possible.”

While some corporations might baulk at the idea of having people in colourful suits dancing around in a factory for a commercial, Murty remembers that Intel was not concerned that the public might take the whimsical nature of the Bunny People advertisements in the wrong way.

“Research prior to the launch indicated that people found the spots highly entertaining and communicated the benefits of our MMX technology for multimedia,” he said.

Consumers in Australia and around the world instead appreciated the oddball nature of the commercials and started to view Intel and its products in a new light. “This campaign really helped drive the awareness of PCs as home devices to new heights,” Murty said.

Intel later carried on the Bunny People theme for its subsequent processor releases, such as the Pentium III and onwards, though the company has not entirely relied on the characters over of the years, and has instead featured a variety of motifs in their advertising.

Brand ranking

These efforts have enabled Intel to be ranked seventh on Interbrand’s 2011 ranking of the top 100 brands, beating out companies such as Apple (eight) and Hewlett-Packard (tenth).

According to Interbrand, Intel earned the seventh spot for their “well-executed” advertising campaigns, as well as their corporate citizenship activities and social media presence.

“Intel’s sonic branding remains strong given its iconic status,” Interbrand said in a statement.

While the Pentium brand is not as commonplace these days as it once was, due to Intel regularly releasing new lines of processors, the company continues to set the bar high for itself when it comes to getting its message out to consumers with advertising.

Intel has continued to promote its engineers and their innovations as recently as 2009 with the Sponsors of Tomorrow campaign, which humorously positioned Intel’s engineers as being the “rock stars” of the IT world, though Murty admits that there are currently no plans to feature the Bunny People characters in any upcoming Intel campaigns.

While the Pentium chip in 1995 took the computer from the corporate environment to the consumer in the home, Murty highlights that another shift occurred when Intel introduced Intel Centrino mobile technology in 2003.

“This was the transformation from the desktop to notebook,” he said. “And today, it’s the new category of Ultrabook devices.”

The company has recently launched the A New Era of Computing campaign to capitalise on this new development. In typical Intel style, the advertisements, which feature cowboys in the old West with clunky notebooks being threatened by the new kid in town with a compact and modern Ultrabook, aim to present computer technology to consumers in a way that makes it more exciting and innovative.

Bunny people? Or Bunny 'bots?

When the Bunny People characters made their debut in a Superbowl commercial in 1997, they not only announced the arrival of the Pentium MMX and Pentium II processors, but they also danced into the public conscious.

Intel modelled the Bunny People after the technicians that work in ultra-clean manufacturing environments to manufacture micro-processors. The protective clothing that Intel’s technicians wear, dubbed “bunny suit”, are designed to prevent dust particles from contaminating and damaging the microprocessors during the manufacturing process.

However, the robotic movements by the Bunny People in the commercials made people wonder whether they were not men in bunny suits but possibly robots. The labels that the Bunny People had on their bunny suits also said “Intel Inside”, as they appeared on the actual processors, further suggesting that they were robotic in nature.

Intel’s Murty, however, sets the record straight by confirming that the Bunny People were actually people that were working in very hi-tech specialised factories with clean rooms requiring them to wear those suits.

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