What do you want to sell me today?

What do you want to sell me today?

Summary: In light of Intel's latest celebrity-infused Centrino Duo ads, here is a look back at five great tech ad campaigns.


Watching breakfast TV through the blurry haze of semi-consciousness, I was momentarily stunned by something on the screen.

No, it wasn't Kochie's joke of the day, but rather an advertisement for Intel's Centrino Duo technology. In the commercial, an unsuspecting man is using his Centrino-powered notebook when Mariah Carey suddenly materialises on his lap and starts belting out a tune.

Instead of responding as most normal people would -- that is, swiftly obtaining a tranquiliser gun and forcibly sedating the diva, then contacting police to remove her unconscious body -- the poor man just sits there bemused and, to his discredit, is entertained by the spectacle.

What are you doing here? There is another version of the advertisement, which features that delightful cerulean-eyed hobbit, Elijah Wood, doing similar lap-sitting shtick with a woman on an airplane. Now, while I don't think I'd complain if I was aboard QF107 and Frodo plonked himself on my knee and started spruiking Intel, the link between a microprocessor and the celebrities mentioned seems tenuous at best.

Intel's latest ad compelled me to go on a retrospective tour of tech advertising. Here are five ad campaigns notable for their humour, visual impact and cleverness.

Apple computer: Why 1984 won't be like "1984"
This advertisement aired only once -- during half-time at the 1984 Super Bowl -- but that was enough for Advertising Age to label it the best advertisement of the last 50 years in 1995. Directed by Ridley Scott, who had triumphed with Blade Runner two years prior, the ad featured a lone, brightly attired athletic female sticking it to the Orwellian Man by running through an assembly of mindless drones and hurling a sledge hammer at the TV image of Big Brother's face.

In her detailed analysis of the ad, Sarah Stein says

"The commercial is elegant, filmic, and a powerful cinematic narrative. It contains allusions to legendary films and cultural myths, and sets in place a trajectory involving issues of balance between the organic and inorganic, between nature and culture"

I don't know that I'd go quite that far, but I will concede that with its powerful anti-repression visuals, it stirs a sense of triumph and excitement in the viewer.

iPod: Dancing silhouettes
iPod silhouettes Such a simple concept, but so darn effective. Apple continued its run of great ads (which included the twirling original iMacs and the inquisitive, shop window-bound iMac G4) with the iPod dancers. The TV spots featured energising music such as "Jerk It Out" by The Caesars -- with added bonus being that the song could be purchased via iTunes. In poster form, the black silhouettes provided the perfect backdrop for the mp3 player's white earphone cable -- which instantly became identifiable as a symbol of cool.

The campaign just keeps on going, with the most recent instalment featuring blue-hued posters and a jazz theme.

Windows 95: Start me up/Where do you want to go today?
Microsoft paid an absolute motza (around US$14 million, if the gossip is correct) to Keef and co. in order to use the Rolling Stones' "Start me up" in ads hyping Windows 95. Commercials heralding the launch of Windows Vista (assuming it ever happens) are rumoured to feature some sort of musical allusion to the song.

The "Where do you want to go today?" slogan may have provided fodder for a million and one sarcastic retorts, but overall, Microsoft's campaign was a winner, painting Windows as the starting point for all kinds of zany adventures.

PlayStation 2: Human mountain
Sony's incredible ad, which featured thousands of people clamouring over each other to form a giant human mountain, won the Grand Prix award at Cannes, with one of the jurors stating

''It is very profound, almost art, a metaphor not just for life but for evolution."

It's an absolutely kicking ad with a high feel good factor, and Shirley Temple's rendition of "Get on Board" provides the perfect quirky soundtrack.

Pentium MMX: The boiler suit boogie
Intel's 1997 ad campaign, which also made its debut during the Super Bowl, managed to make integrated circuits funky, with a clan of disco-dancing "Bunny People" kicking out the jams. The bunny suit became such a familiar image that when Steve Jobs gave an address on Apple's switch to Intel at this year's MacWorld, Intel CEO Paul Otellini jumped onstage kitted out in the bunny clobber, just to hammer the point home.

What tech ads have you found memorable, funny, or worthy of violent contempt?

Topics: Apple, E-Commerce, Government, Intel, Tech Industry

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  • !#@* Intel

    That Intel jingle - you know the one. I *detest* that; it's far too schmalzy. If Intel were going for the irritant factor then they certainly achieved that. Even if Intel chips were not technically inferior to those of AMD, I would continue to boycott them because of that jingle.

    Even worse is during the Dell ads, where every time Intel is mentioned, the jingle is played. It is manifestly offensive to the ears.

    ISP ads are similarily grating. Dodo's execrable "Richie Benaud", non-stripping blonde bimbo and Dodo's Angels campaigns have gained them a place on my sh*t-list.

    As for the rest of them: GET YOUR TERMINOLOGY RIGHT! "Broadband" is a largely meaningless phrase. I've seen the term used for everything from a 128k connection to uncapped cable. Your average viewer won't have a scooby that there's such a range of speeds.

    As you can tell, I'm usually whipped into a purple-faced rage when I watch these adverts, so I'm not sure if they still advertise computers as "multimedia". That might have been a selling point in 1994, where sound cards and CD ROMs were an expensive luxury, but the term became more laughable as time went on.

    The fictitious PS9 ad that went out a while ago, where users connected to the console via Red Dwarf-esque brain probes was great.

    The mouth-breathers that came into my mate's computer shop looking for one made me realise just who the advertisers are targeting.
  • Nice article.

    No really, nice article.

    (Must be almost a shock to read a compliment here, rather than just another person hurling vitriol.)

    Most of the great ads that I can think of are by Apple.

    Their latest one, with Kiefer Sutherland narrating the coming of the Intel-based Macs, whilst Moby's evocative instrumental titled "God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters" plays in the background, works well.
    Given the original inspiration for that piece, I wonder if Apple see themselves as God?

    Another nice Apple ad was the one where they used the computer 'HAL' from the legendary film '2001: A Space Odyssey'. One long shot, slowly zooming in on HAL's all-seeing single lensed 'eye'....

    It was rather cool to depict that famously sinister sci-fi computer character, which I think is the only time HAL has been depicted on film outside the original film (in 1968) and it's sequel (in 1984).
  • 1984 - year of the pod people

    I watch that ad now, and all I am thinking when observing the row after row of brain washed drones is: "Imagine them all with the same ipod draped around their necks".

    Apple has now come full circle, from being the battler fighting "the man", to being the consumer item of choice where thinking about what product to buy is thrown out of the window and choosing an expensive, feature poor device simply because it looks the same as the other 1 million ipods already sold to people on the same train as you.