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 Bunny. Intel’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.”
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.