Going Longer on Intel’s Ad Spat With the Mac

Yours truly, yesterday:

To my recollection, Apple never once advertised that its Intel-based Macs were Intel-based. They definitely mentioned it on stage during new Mac hardware product introductions (starting with Steve Jobs calling then-Intel-CEO Paul Otellini on stage, wearing a bunny suit, at Macworld Expo in January 2006 to help introduce the first ones. But they never ran ads that mentioned Intel, unless I’m forgetting them.

So much for my recollection. A few kind readers reminded me that right at the outset, in January 2006, just after unveiling the first Intel-based Macs, Apple debuted a commercial entirely about the Mac’s move. The ad was even titled “The Intel Chip”.

Still frame from Apple’s 2006 ‘The Intel Chip’ TV commercial, showing a woman in a white clean room suit taking a large silicon wafer from a colleague.

Here’s what I wrote at the time:

Lastly, I’m compelled to rave about the “Intel chip” commercial Apple unveiled at the show.

The lighting, the extreme slow-motion cinematography, the music, the words — the ad is beautiful. It has a Kubrickian vibe that warms my heart. This is TV-commercial-as-art.

Intel, however, is feigning displeasure at the ad’s message:

“The Intel chip. For years, it’s been trapped inside PCs. Dull little boxes, dutifully performing dull little tasks. When it could have been doing so much more.”

Regarding Intel’s reaction to the ad, CNet’s Ina Fried reported:

“Never would we characterize our customers that way,” Intel Vice President Deborah Conrad said in an interview.

Conrad said that Intel cooperated with Apple for some particulars of the TV spot, but added, “We didn’t know what the end result was going to be.” The company did get a peek at the ad before Tuesday’s keynote, but it wasn’t too much earlier.

“It’s probably a good thing that we didn’t see them earlier,” Conrad said.

Don’t believe it. Intel loves this ad. This ad makes Intel processors look better than any ad Intel has ever produced itself. The feeling this ad conveys is that Intel’s chips are going to be kicking some goddamn major ass inside Macs.

Really hard to believe I didn’t recall this ad yesterday.1 I blame the fact that I was trying to think of ads about specific Macs that mentioned Intel — and completely overlooked one of my favorite commercials ever, because it was entirely about the Intel partnership itself.

The message was that the two great companies of the industry were finally together: Apple, the product maker, and Intel, the chip maker. 15 years later, though, I can kind of see how Intel might have been a bit peeved. It paints Intel as needing the Mac for its chips to reach their potential, not the Mac as needing Intel chips to achieve performance-per-watt parity with the rest of the PC industry. It’s implicitly a bit insulting, and an utterly Jobsian way to frame the new partnership. It’s hard to imagine Intel having made a converse ad: “The Macintosh. For years, it’s been saddled with inferior chips. Beautiful little boxes, dutifully chugging along. When they could have been running so much faster.” Pretty sure an ad like that would have gotten Steve Jobs on the phone with Paul Otellini.

But I stand by the claim that Apple’s ad makes Intel chips look better, feel better — downright epic, even — than any ad Intel itself had ever made or has made since. The visuals are clinical, but the message is all heart and soul.

Which brings me to my bigger complaint with Intel’s new “Go PC” campaign.

Intel is in trouble. For Intel to be Intel they need to be leading the industry. The best fabs, the fastest chips. Right now they can’t credibly argue that they’re the best at anything. They haven’t just lost the Mac. TSMC is absolutely killing them at fabrication. All modern smartphones are built on ARM chips. Intel tried to gain a foothold in the cellular modem business, and failed.

One of the spots in Intel’s new campaign is focused on “PC gaming”, but Intel isn’t even a leader there. AMD’s Ryzen CPUs are the current gamers’ choice. Gaming GPUs? Forget about it — Nvidia is king and AMD is a credible player, but Intel isn’t really in the game. They have no footprint in the console gaming industry — the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series all use AMD CPUs and GPUs. The Nintendo Switch uses an ARM SoC from Nvidia.

Intel’s marketing is now high on their own supply. Instead of thinking “Intel Inside” was a badge of honor because it meant leading edge tech was powering the device, they think it’s necessarily good tech inside because the Intel badge is outside. They’re advertising like they’re still perched atop Relevancy Mountain when the obvious truth everyone can see is how startlingly far they’ve fallen from that peak. They need to re-read their Andy Grove.

If Intel wants to start a new era, under new leadership — a highly-regarded former executive returning to the company after years away, no less — they’re drawing inspiration from the wrong old Apple campaign. Intel needs their version of “Think Different”. Reassert the company’s core values. Tell the world, and your own employees, how they should feel about Intel. I don’t know what that message is, but Intel needs to figure it out. “Go PC” sure isn’t it.

  1. Apple’s “The Intel Chip” spot was also memorable for the bit of controversy regarding its obvious inspiration from The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” — a good video for a great song from 2003. The band was pissed, but Apple had hired the directors of the video to make their ad, and subsequently tried to make things right by promoting the “Such Great Heights” video on the main page of the iTunes Music Store↩︎