Super Bowl XXXI on January 26, 1997, marked the beginning of one of the most successful ad campaigns in history and an iconic corporate mascot for Intel. The company had been using sterile head-to-toe “bunny suits” in its fabrication facilities since 1973. However, for about twenty-five years after their advent, the suits were an internal part of Intel’s company culture, something recognizable among employees but not widely known to the public at large. With the introduction of the Intel Bunny People ads, the suit burst sensationally into the American popular consciousness and became an instantly recognizable signifier of the Intel brand.
The first Bunny People commercial, for the Pentium MMX, featured a disco-like clean room where dancers in shiny gold, silver, red and blue bunny suits got down to the 1976 hit “Play That Funky Music (White Boy)” by the band Wild Cherry. A companion commercial introduced soon thereafter explained that viewers were getting a glimpse into “the MMX media technology department at Intel, where highly trained professionals are engaged in the extremely precise process of adding fun to the Pentium processor.”
Intel’s decision to advertise a processor the same way other companies advertised sneakers or cola was a shockingly ambitious gambit. The company was banking that it could take the “ingredient branding” of the Intel Inside campaign to a new level: it could not only associate the Intel brand with cutting-edge technology and quality components, but it could make them fun and engaging to non-techies.
The campaign was a stunning success. Several more ads for Intel processors featuring the Bunny People followed, including an ad for Pentium II in 1997 in which they danced with the Rockettes to Peaches and Herb’s “Shake your Groove Thing” (1978). Gradually, the Bunny People grew beyond advertisements for specific products to become company mascots. They made appearances at major events. Their likeness graced countless promotions. Bunny People bean-bag dolls and tchotchkes became collectibles. In 2012, students from Rosemary Elementary School in Campbell, California, provided the illustrations for The Adventures of Chip and the Intel Bunny, a book Intel developed to help children understand the company’s technology. The Bunny People had become such a universal emblem of Intel that even grade schoolers followed the association.
Even other companies accepted the success of the campaign. Apple Computers’ 1998 “Toasted Bunny” commercial lampooned the Bunny People, but in doing so tacitly acknowledged how strongly the figures were tied to Intel. The Bunny People had brought the element of fun not only to people’s perception Intel’s products, but to their perceptions of the company itself.