Before the “Intel Inside” campaign, Intel had been largely unknown to consumers. The company had a reputation for its technical prowess and quality among original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), but it had not seen much need to cultivate a similar renown among end users. That began to change in the late 1980s — the PC market was creating a huge demand for central processing units, and with that came a new imperative for Intel to explain the desirability of its products to lay consumers. Intel’s response to that imperative, the Intel Inside campaign, would make advertising history, turn Intel into a household brand name and create a valuable shortcut through which OEMs could signal the quality of their products to customers.
Intel first began to address the need to reach out to consumers with the “Red X” campaign to market the 386 microprocessor. The 386 was a major technical breakthrough, but at first it lagged in sales, even trailing Intel’s own 286. Dennis Carter, a marketing specialist and technical assistant to Andy Grove, determined that the problem was that consumers did not understand the 386’s advantages and were inclined to trust the established, popular product because it was a proven entity even though it was outdated and not significantly cheaper.
We proved to ourselves that we could communicate technical information in a basic way, and I concluded that we should do this more. Inadvertently, we had created a brand for processors
As Carter transitioned out of his term as technical assistant (to be succeeded by future CEO Paul Otellini), he began pursuing end-user marketing solutions to this challenge. His first effort was the famous “Red X” campaign, in which a 286 was crossed out with a red x to indicate its obsolescence, followed in close proximity by an advertisement for the 386 explaining that chip’s advantages. Carter recalled the campaign’s success as a watershed for Intel’s end-user marketing: “We proved to ourselves that we could communicate technical information in a basic way, and I concluded that we should do this more. Inadvertently, we had created a brand for processors.” In 1990, Carter teamed up with John White, a partner in a Salt Lake City ad agency, to expand on the lessons the company had learned from the “Red X” campaign.
Together, the two men developed “Intel Inside,” which officially launched in 1991. Where previous tech marketing had focused heavily on technical specifications designed to appeal to industry insiders, Intel Inside was designed to be accessible to laymen. It loaded a simple logo with enough meaning to give non-techies an easy way to understand that their devices contained quality components provided by the company that defined the state of the art. Even the logo’s design — two words drawn in informal script inside an imperfect circle created by the art director of White’s agency — conveyed a breezy straightforwardness.
While Intel promoted the Intel Inside logo in ads of its own, the campaign depended heavily on a cooperative endeavor in which the company provided subsidies to OEMs who included the logo on their own products and ads, thus encouraging consumers to think about the processors inside the devices they bought and recognize Intel as a sign of quality and innovation. By the end of 1992, over five hundred OEMs had signed onto the cooperative marketing program and 70 percent of OEM ads that could carry the logo did so.
The campaign encountered some skepticism, especially given Intel’s unprecedented $250 million initial investment. No major company had ever tried “ingredient branding” for tech components before, and Michael Murphy, editor of the California Technology Newsletter, lamented, “I think it's money down the drain. … The public, unfortunately, is either too unsophisticated to listen, or it listens to what trade journals say, not ads.”
In spite of such doubts, Intel Inside proved so successful that near the end of the 1990s Advertising Age referred to it as the most effective coop advertising program in history, “a stellar run in which the chip giant built a brand, influenced a generation of PC users and propelled industry growth.” Meanwhile, Intel had expanded its brand awareness with its own television and print ads, including one commercial produced by George Lucas’s company Industrial Light & Magic, an iconic 1997 Super Bowl commercial introducing people to the Intel Dancers and a series featuring cartoon icon Homer Simpson. Marveling at the company’s success, Advertising Age asked, “Whoever thought a microprocessor could be so, well, cool?”