Take, for instance, Apple’s decision to install Intel chips in the Mac. There are, clearly, good technical reasons for this move. But the potential branding consequences…yikes!
The Apple-PC contest breaks along one of the ideological fault lines in our culture. It pits creativity against productivity, individuals against corporations, imagination against pragmatism.
Jobs had paid hugely for this position. Apple became the right machine for the design department, and the wrong machine for the rest of the corporation. Expensive. Heroic. Brand building.
And now at risk. Putting an Intel chip in an Apple machine, isn’t that like embracing the enemy? The Mac now had a stow away, an alien on board. What if, late at night, as we slept, the spirit of the PC slipped out of the chip into the soul of the Mac? What if the brain of the machine changed the soul of the machine? What if Mac lost its Macness, and the magnificient brand equity for which Jobs had paid so dearly?
Well, if you are Apple, you do the right thing. You confront the problem head on with a little anticipatory meaning management. Hence the ad that’s been playing this week.
We are in a clean room. Technicians are handling a piece of hardware ever so delicately.
The voice-over (Keiffer Sutherland):
The Intel chip
for years, its been trapped inside PCs
inside dull little boxes
dutifully performing dull little tasks
when it could have been doing
starting today the Intel chip will be set free
and get to live life
inside a Mac.
Imagine the possibilities
This neatly changes the polarity of the event. It’s not Intel that will change Mac, but Mac that will change Intel. In fact, the Mac is liberating the Intel chip from its PC captivity. Indeed, Mac will do for the Intel what it does for those who use a Mac: make both more creative, interesting, engaged. Beauty!
One particular word of praise: the lab technician who handles the chip in transition is perfectly cast and brilliantly directed. Her face captures the gravity and the mischief of the event. Her tiny smile of triumph forms our reaction, by suggesting it, inviting it, proposing it only. Nice.
And particular word of criticism: why choose Keiffer Sutherland as the voice over? To be sure, it is a great voice, combining useful warmth and urgency. But Sutherland is mostly shaped in the public mind by the show 24, in which he plays a man trapped in a machine he cannot understand. Is this not precisely the image of the Intel chip we wish to avoid and that the ad struggles to f inesse?
The ad comes from TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles. It can’t say that I was impressed with this agency when I worked with them for the Coca-Cola Company. But they are on a tear at the moment. The Los Angeles office is responsible for the "why" spot for Jimmy Dean. (A man in a sun suit solemnly tells his daughter that his job is to light and heat the earth. She responds by wrinkling her nose in the world’s most delicate performance of devoted dubiety ever caught on film.) The New York office of TBWA\Chiat\Day is responsible for the Nextel "Dance Party" ad, which is very close to a thing of genuis.
It is sometimes the marketer’s job is to build the brand. Sometimes, it’s our job to remove the brand from harm’s way. Hat’s off to Apple and TBWA\Chiat\Day for an amazing piece of anticipatory meaning management.
The Mac-Intel-Apple ad, here.
The Nextel ad, here.
For more on the agency, here.