30
Jun 17

Steve Jobs and the missing “Intel Inside” sticker

Maybe I have a bad attitude.

I’d be quite content if I never again heard the Intel “bong” at the end of every PC ad.

I’d also be terminally depressed if I had to look at a gaudy Intel Inside sticker every time I opened my MacBook.

I get that Intel Inside is one of the most successful marketing campaigns in business history. It’s just that after 36 years, that logo starts to feel more like a pollutant than an advertising device.

Thankfully, Macs have remained 100% free of Intel branding since Apple adopted its processors way back in 2006.

We have Steve Jobs’s sensibilities to thank for this. But how it all happened is a fun little story.

First—a little background for those who might have forgotten.

AN INSIDE JOB

The Intel Inside marketing strategy will be studied in business schools around the world for decades. It represented bold thinking and bold spending.

In the early days of PCs, shoppers had no reason to care what kind of processor was inside the machine—but Intel made them care.

Though it sold products only to business, Intel invested a huge amount of money advertising to consumers.

Basically, it ran commercials glorifying Intel processors, then paid PC makers to tell consumers they had Intel inside.

With nearly nonexistent profit margins, the PC makers eagerly took the cash—which, of course, came with conditions. The Intel Inside badge had to be visible on PCs and in advertising, and the TV and radio ads had to additionally play the annoying Intel bong.

To get the payout dangled before them, PC makers had to follow strict rules about the placement of the Intel Inside badge, how long it was visible on TV and even the volume level of the bong.

This strategy turned Intel into a global powerhouse.

STEVE JOBS PICKS A FIGHT

Needless to say, Steve Jobs wasn’t a big Intel fan.

When he returned to Apple in 1997, the company was running on fumes. The more Intel PCs dominated the market—due in no small part to Intel’s marketing—the weaker Apple had become.

That’s because, unlike PCs, Macs ran on the PowerPC platform, a processor technology jointly developed by Apple, Motorola and IBM. They weren’t bad processors, but perception is everything—and the perception was that PCs were faster than Macs.

In Steve’s first days back, he unleashed Jony Ive and team to revolutionize the home computer. This would be the proof that Apple was back in the innovation business, and restore the company to profitability. Unfortunately, iMac was many months in the future.

So—what to do now?

The answer was Think different. Apple’s iconic brand campaign not only served as a launchpad for future products, it gave us a more exciting way to present our current products.

Soon after the debut of Think different, Steve gave us some news that provided some much-needed ammunition.

Apple’s internal testing showed that the newest PowerPC processor was faster than Intel’s fastest chip. With a real competitive advantage to work with, we did what any feisty agency would do: we declared war on Intel.

Suddenly, it was to our advantage that Intel had become the unifying, driving force in PCs. We didn’t have to attack any PC maker by name—we could take on the entire PC industry simply by attacking Intel.

We created a series of ads we would later call the “Anti-Intel Trilogy.” First came Snail, which remains one of my favorite Apple advertising moments.

Then came  Burning BunnyIntel’s own ad campaign made heavy use of dancing Bunny People—the clean-suited Intel employees who manufactured their processors. So, in our ad, we literally “toasted” one of the Bunny People. (This became a nice full-page newspaper ad as well, as shown below.)

The third ad, titled Steamroller, was our way of visually demonstrating the Mac’s “Pentium-crushing power.”

(Pause for interesting fact: the voice on all three of these commercials was Richard Dreyfuss—who debuted with Apple as the voice of the Crazy Ones launch commercial for Think different. We upgraded to Jeff Goldblum in subsequent ads.)

To further tweak Intel, we produced sheets of “Snail Inside” stickers to be given out at various Mac events. Not that we would ever condone people surrupticiously placing these stickers on PCs belonging to friends or being displayed in retail stores.

Needless to say, Intel was not amused by any of this. An Intel web page went up, refuting Apple’s numbers with different benchmark results. Lawsuits were threatened.

Steve dreamed that Intel would take the bait. He imagined images of our Intel snail splashed across the world’s business publications.

Sadly, Intel thought better of it. They chose to grin and bear it. Apple was an irritant, but the Intel empire wasn’t about to collapse.

Did the Anti-Intel Trilogy convince the masses that Macs were faster than Intel-based PCs? Not exactly. But it did force Macs into the conversation, where they hadn’t been for years. The fact that people were actually debating which platform was fastest was a win for Apple.

As Steve said, it’s good to have an enemy. It creates focus and motivates the troops.

That said, all wars come to an end. Even bitter enemies can become close friends.

APPLE JOINS THE CLUB

In 2006, hell officially froze over.

Apple’s attacks upon Intel were now several years in the past. iMac had become the best-selling model in computer history (not just Apple’s history). iPod had revolutionized the way music was discovered, purchased and enjoyed.

The era of Apple “firing on all cylinders” was upon us.

However, despite Apple’s successes, Intel processors remained “the standard.” And Intel’s vast resources ensured that PowerPC processors would always struggle to keep up.

With his eye on the future, Steve Jobs did the unthinkable. He announced that Apple was transitioning to Intel processors.

THE JOY OF INTEL

I was present at The Big Announcement.

It was a fun moment for me personally. At that time, I was working inside Apple as a creative consultant, but I had just come off a four-year stint as Intel’s ad agency creative director. Four years in hell, I might add.

At the event, fate played an interesting trick. I ended up sitting next to some of my former Intel clients. And wow, had they changed.

When we worked together, they had nothing but disdain for Apple. We could use Macs at the agency, but we were forbidden to flash them inside the mother ship.

Yet here they were, bubbling with enthusiasm, soaking up the ambience. It was as if they had front row seats at a Rolling Stones concert.

There was even talk—gasp—that they could now get Macs for themselves.

The show itself was classic Apple. Steve made his dramatic announcement, and then invited Intel CEO Paul Ottelini to the stage. Paul appeared wearing the famous Intel Bunny Man suit. It was all laughs, hugs and high-fives.

And what did Ottelini do to greet the crowd? He played our Burning Bunny ad, wearing a big smile throughout.

He used this moment to savor the fact that the Apple-Intel relationship had evolved from combat to partnership.

“INTEL INSIDE” OR NOT

When the event concluded, Steve held court with journalists at the front of the stage as he often did.

I approached him with my biggest concern:  “Please tell me we won’t have to put the Intel Inside logo on our Macs.”

With a big grin, Steve looked me in the eye and said, “Trust me, I made sure that’s in the contract.”

Whew.

Months later, before the first Intel-powered iMacs shipped, Apple’s package design team explored different ways to add the Intel element to the iMac box.

None included the Intel Inside badge.

Instead, they created a new graphic element—an artful photograph of a processor bearing a simple Intel corporate logo.

At that time, the iMac box featured the large image of the computer on the front and a column of features on the side (things like included software, built-in iSight camera, etc.)

One of designs shared with Steve placed the Intel chip apart from the other features, under the large iMac image.

Steve hated it.

He felt that Intel was an important part of the computer, but no more important than iMac’s other features. He preferred simply adding Intel to the feature list on the side of the box. By executive decree, it would be just one more reason to buy an iMac—never the reason.

Steve cared too much about the brand to siphon any of it off to Intel.

CLARIFYING THE MAC ADVANTAGE

For PC makers grasping for profit, the Intel Inside program was a godsend. It was a revenue stream in itself.

What of poor Apple, then? Did it get no financial break from Intel because it refused to take part in the Intel marketing machine?

Doubt it. Steve’s negotiating skills were legendary, and he was well aware that Intel relished the opportunity to become Apple’s partner. We can only imagine the deal he made.

Today, even though some speculate that Apple will switch to ARM processors, one cannot diminish the importance of Steve’s switch to Intel in 2006.

His decision instantly demolished the argument that PCs had a built-in advantage over Macs.

With processor parity, Apple could focus 100% on the things that set Macs apart on a more human level: software, design, quality and simplicity.

And Jony Ive was forever spared the nightmare of seeing that Intel Inside super-glued to his Macs.

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  • edsug

    Ken, thanks for a great story! Very inspiring and illuminating. Steve Jobs never ceases to amaze, even now.

  • Brant Merryman

    I greatly enjoyed reading this.

  • hfortuna

    Wow, wow, wow…”one more thing” that shows Steve was not only a marketing genius but a business genius as well…

  • jbelkin

    Just to note, WIN PC margins have been around 2% for the PROFITABLE ones since about 2000 so they’ll pre-install any crapware with payment and of course Intel not only rebates them for TV ads but as noted, pays for the stickers … and as Ken notes, they sold their own brand down the river and basically repeated over & over to consumers that the only thing to look for is INTEL – if your PC has that, you are good to go – who cares about the brand. BTW, the reason Apple had to switch was that Moto/IBM’s roadmap going forward was pretty weak. The PowerPC group was just not willing to invest in that chip. Apple switching to Intel actually had a marketing advantage for free after Intel had spent BILLIONS branding a microprocessor (which is really a remarkable story in itself as I’ll bet 85% of computer users cannot tell you what the microprocessor does) and so when apple switched, it actually eliminated one reason not to buy a mac – that it had the approval and foundation of an intel chip (dont know what it is but I want it and what i should as for). And of course everything else helped – looks great, great looking OS, Steve Jobs, imac, apple stores and later ipods).

  • saijanai

    You’ve rewritten the history of how Apple went Intel.

    PowerPCs were always faster, transistor to transistor, than Intel chips, and never were they “struggling to keep up.”

    However, Apple needed a next-generation low-powered CPU for its laptops, and IBM’s R&D was on workstations. IBM refused to produce a new laptop-level PPC chip unless Apple provided the R&D dollars directly, which Jobs refused to do.

    The rest is history.

  • synthmeister

    By the time Apple switched, IBM’s/Moto’s ARM business was a complete sideshow, having missed multiple speed targets. Remember the 500 ghz fiasco and the 3 ghz vaporware? Also, the higher end, faster MacPros consistently had a higher failure rate than the lower end models. Motorola even favored PCs in their offices even though they used Intel chips, instead of buying Macs with their own CPUs. Talk about not eating your own dog food.
    Software makers were also often slow to exploit the speed opportunities which PPC chips offered, instead allowing shoddy PC ports of the software to the Mac.

    But you are correct: IBM had zero interest in mobile applications, whereas Jobs was already figuring out t that mobile would be the next big thing.

  • Galaxy_Surfer_007

    You ignored the rest of the column! He explicitly wrote that the Powwr PC chips were faster, and included an ad indicating “up to two times faster”!

    “would always struggle to keep up” referred to *sales* numbers, not their speed!

    Re-read the column!

  • Galaxy_Surfer_007

    He knew the real “art of the deal” better than its purported author ever did!

  • Steven Marshall

    Upgraded to Goldblum? What’d Dreyfus do to deserve that kinda slam? You could have just said “changed.”

  • Chris BSomething

    Nobody ever benchmarked a computer “transistor to transistor”. PowerPC was falling behind.

  • MacServiceGuy
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  • Kip Beatty

    I wondered the same thing, as I actually preferred Dreyfus. He’ll forever be ingrained in my mind as the voice of “Think Different.” However, Ken is apparently not a Dreyfus fan.

  • The Cappy

    That’s not true. The PowerPC had become slower. Motorola and IBM were putting tiny amounts of R&D dollars into improving the chips and architecture, while intel continued to charge forward. Apple had to use very very selective benchmarks to show PPC faster than intel. It picked photoshop pictures where the filters used were very heavily skewed towards a couple of ops that PPC was good at. But market share wasn’t the only reason Adobe started to turn away from Macs. Some people who just listened to the marketing swallowed that. There was a dramatic jump in performance when the switch occurred.

  • iphonenick

    Many people aren’t aware that IBM’s RISC-based POWER-series were performance champs for years. The number of processors Apple required wasn’t large enough to justify the development of desktop-class PowerPC variants (scaled down POWER CPUs).

    PPC 604e processors have been used in millions of devices and there was no incentive for IBM to scale the POWER5 chip for desktop or laptop use. The current POWER9 is a beast of a CPU being utilized by DOE and Livermore.

    Apple had to jump to Intel to access a stable PC CPU roadmap.

  • Mo

    Seriously. There was nothing wrong with Dreyfus’ VO work on the ads. He and Goldblum were simply different artists hired for different kinds of campaigns.

    I can imagine that Mr. Segall’s team was enthused at the prospect of creating more humorous material for Goldblum, but that doesn’t diminish what Dreyfus did for the brand at all.

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  • art hackett

    Power Macs – Mac Pro came at the switch. Still can’t stand MacBook (Pro or otherwise), but PowerBook had to go along with power mac.

  • art hackett

    Never mind that it allowed macs to run Windows natively or virtually at no speed penalty for those that required it, or were afraid (of switching). That must have been a massive advantage short and long term, and I imagine still presents a risk in switching to ARM.

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  • Rue Merde

    By far my favourite Apple commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Eb1yih5kNY

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  • Yep. I could have just said “changed,” but to everyone involved — Steve Jobs included — it really was an upgrade. For several reasons:

    • Dreyfus actually did earn a slam. He was difficult to work with, and fairly humorless.
    • Goldblum was a vastly better match for the Apple brand. He was intelligent, witty and quirky, while Dreyfus was mostly about intelligence.
    • Goldblum had more passion for the Apple brand. He stuck around as long as it took to get something right. For Dreyfuss, it was just a job. He did it and left.
    • Most important, Goldblum was vastly more creative. His quirky sense of humor spilled out at every shoot. I wish I could say I wrote all of his scripts, but some of the best lines in our spots came from Goldblum himself.

    People tend to look back at the “old days” through the lens of today’s values. Don’t forget what things were like when iMac was launched in 1998. Yes, Dreyfuss was an established actor, but he hadn’t done anything really big in a while. Goldblum had done the first “Jurassic Park” just a few years before, and “Independence Day” in 1997. He was a hot, highly paid actor at the peak of his stardom. It was unimaginable that we’d get him to do our commercials, but we thought it was worth the shot.

    in fact, that was the leverage Goldblum’s manager used with us. “He doesn’t do commercials, but if he ever decided to, Apple would be a great match.” (Read: this is going to cost you.) The conversation went on from there.

    So, it was a coup to land an actor with Goldblum’s place in our culture. But we all thought it was a great move, because he was clearly a smart, articulate guy with a quirky sense of humor. He could add to the Apple brand in ways that Dreyfuss simply couldn’t.

  • Thank you sir!

  • One day I’ll have to write about the development of that commercial. We ended up with several very different versions, and this is just the one that saw the light of day.

  • Steven Marshall

    Thanks for the insight…as fascinating as Insanely Simple. It’s a shame that Dreyfuss had to be such a douche, but it worked out for the best. Loved the Goldblum spots.

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  • hellonwheelz

    For the record, intel actually already won in mobile compute. Without being top in performance per watt, Apple laptops would always lose. This made the switch imperative. Apple was prepared and this was a huge triumph of planning and paralell development. Many companies would have been like, “How could we know that Motorola wasn’t actually going to follow through and give us competitive engines?”