The most influential branding campaign in high-tech history is about to be retired.
And it's about time.
Word is that at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Intel will formally announce the end of the Intel Inside campaign and replace it with a new branding program called Leap Ahead, which it will support with a new company logo that puts "Intel" (without the time-honored dropped "e") into a kind of whoosh-oval.
This new logo doesn't particularly thrill me. Some ad agency probably got a lot of bucks for coming up with something that ultimately looks less progressive than the old logo. Why abandon that distinctive and memorable dropped "e"? As for Leap Ahead, I'll reserve judgment until I see the commercials, although for now it seems at best lame, and at worst like a Mao-era Chinese five-year industrial plan: The Great Leap Forward …er, Ahead!
Still, the time for something new from Intel's marketing department is long overdue. And despite an overwrought article in BusinessWeek Online that tried to create high drama out of whether retired Intel CEO Andy Grove would explode over the decision to kill one of his greatest creations -- a complete misreading of Grove, one of the most difficult but also one of the most relentlessly forward-looking and adaptive leaders in American business -- I imagine Andy's buy-in to the new campaign came pretty quickly. Intel, after some ugly missteps, has been busily remaking itself over the last couple of years -- a new CEO in Paul Otellini, new market ventures, a shift to dual-core processors, major new employee hiring. The one area left that needed serious upgrading was marketing.
But I'm not here to cast doubts on Leap Ahead. With the kind of money Intel and its strategic partners are going to put behind it, it will be a success to one degree or another. Rather, I want to use this column to honor the achievement of Intel Inside, a program many of us in Silicon Valley chuckled about at first, then came to look upon in awe. As with most things tech, even great things like the Apple II and the HP-35, Intel Inside will now fade from the scene with few goodbyes -- and soon, even fewer memories. So let this be its memorial.
You know Intel Inside. Everybody does who has ever owned a personal computer, and that is a measure of just how amazing this branding campaign has been. Intel Inside, inaugurated 14 years ago, not only revolutionized marketing and branding in high technology but, given the initial obstacles it had to overcome, is arguably the most successful branding campaign of all time in any business.
To understand why, put yourself back in the world of tech in the late 1990s. In those days, the electronics industry was really a collection of distinct fiefdoms. There were mainframes and servers, personal computers, consumer electronics (mostly game players), software and semiconductors -- and rarely did they overlap. Rather, they sold their products to one another, and at the bottom of the supply chain were the comparatively few consumer products companies sold to the outside world. During this era, only a handful of tech companies -- TI, IBM's PC division, Sony, the game companies and most of all, Apple -- even knew how to sell to the general public. Apple's rainbow logo and IBM's recently retired Little Tramp character were considered the zenith of high-tech branding.