Apr 12

Intel’s “new era” echoes Apple’s old idea

Thanks to Intel, “a new era of computing” has arrived.

No more thick, heavy laptops. No more clunky design. This is the dawn of the “ultrabook”: super-thin, super-light and beautifully sculpted.

It’s a bold claim and a fantastic idea, except that it ignores one obvious fact:

The Intel era of ultrabooks looks exactly like the Apple era of MacBook Air, which began four years ago.

It’s particularly interesting because MacBook Air has actually been running on an Intel processor all this time. And PC companies have in fact dabbled in the super-thin space before, though they haven’t had much luck.

What’s really different this time is that Intel has packaged the technology, trademarked the word “ultrabook” and made it all available to their PC partners. No need for any of them to worry about all that messy “innovation” stuff. Now they can just start churning out MacBook Air lookalikes, with Intel supporting their efforts with a huge ad campaign.

Intel’s “new era” will be all around us. Not just on TV, but in print and on billboards, with such headlines as “Mastadons. Dodos. Bulky laptops.” And “So futuristic, it will even seem futuristic in the future.” Clearly this new era in computing didn’t come with a new era in writing.

Intel’s press release makes a very big deal about the scope of this campaign. They’re spending “hundreds of millions,” making it Intel’s biggest advertising push since Centrino in 2003. The commercial above, called Desperado, is the first of three big productions that will be rolled out in the coming weeks. While they were shooting the commercials, they shot extra footage to be integrated into their web pages. Great idea. Obviously lots of thinking went into this.

Since I’m in the business, I try to be understanding about the challenges faced by the creative teams. Since I once worked with Intel’s agency, I’m sensitive to the fact that Intel is not an easy client. They have systems in place that influence the quality of their ads, and I don’t mean in a good way.

I’m also a bit tainted when it comes to Old West commercials, since I just finished working on one for JCPenney with Ellen DeGeneres. When you recreate another era like this, a hundred decisions contribute to the overall tone. JCPenney happily agreed with our dark and dirty vision. Intel’s world is sanitized. Their scary guys aren’t very scary, looking more like soap-opera actors picking up some cash on the side. Bottom line: it feels a lot like an ad. Or, more accurately, an ad with a gaggle of approvers worried about tainting Intel’s image.

It’s also interesting to note the irony of this commercial. Intel must show the monstrosities as a counterpoint to the gorgeous new ultrabooks — and in the real world, these blights on computing are all powered by Intel.

These observations, of course, come from the picky ad guy inside of me. I imagine that mainstream viewers will follow the story, have a chuckle or two, and get the whole “new era in computing” idea. That’s an extremely loose interpretation of  “new,” but forgivable by most advertising standards.

More disturbing, if you believe in a little thing called truth in advertising, are the very last words in the commercial:

Ultrabook. Inspired by Intel.

Uh … inspired by who?

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  • Dmitri

    I remember when some company — I forget who — was widely touted for “inventing” backlit keyboards, TWO YEARS after macs had them. 

    “New” means “the Apple of [n] years ago.” 

    The difference is that Apple is no longer “beleaguered.” It’s not an ignored brand. People don’t wait for the “cheaper” Apple knock-offs anymore. 

    So this definition of “new” might actually be getting old…

  • Time-honored advertising strategy at PC makers = pretend Apple doesn’t exist. You’re really just competing for people who already own PCs (not Macs) and who are trapped into buying another one (for business reasons, I guess). New strategy = make our products more and more Mac-like for everyone who secretly wants to buy Apple but is scared or trapped.

  • jayparry

    Sounds like a “Desperado” move to me!

  • They have no shame.

  • robroberts2009

    No matter how gorgeous the hardware, Ultrabooks are still running Windows 7.

    I did enjoy the ad, it told a story and kept my attention, and was actually kinda funny without being lame in the way most Microsoft ads are — I suppose because Microsoft has the delusion that they can be “cool” like Apple, but they always come across as the drooling class idiot acting out for attention. Actually Dell is that way too, thinking that saying “dude” makes you hip.

  • Gilcio Martins

    Very well explained! Agree with you.

  • ArrowSmith

    Some people want the Macbook Air form factor with Windows 7  pre-installed. That’s a tangible feature. Not only that, but many ultrabooks will be offering ports and other options that MBA doesn’t.

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  • But the one in the ad looks like it’s about as thick as 3 MacBook Air, stacked!  Or maybe one of the old Aluminum PowerBook G4s…  

    Oh well.  Everything old is new again.