Intel’s CMO Showed the World How a Tech Company Can Sing, Dance and Send Rockets Into Space

Adweek's 2016 Brand Genius winner for technology

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This summer, Jim Parsons hopped into a New York City taxi and suffered a fate that often befalls celebrities.

Parsons, the star of The Big Bang Theory, noticed the driver stealing glances his way, trying to place his face. Finally, the cabbie remembered where he'd seen Parsons, though it wasn't on the hit CBS sitcom. "Hey," said the driver, "you're that guy in the Intel ad!" (Fun fact: Parsons got the Intel gig after execs from the brand spotted him on the cover of Adweek in the offices of the agency mcgarrybowen.)

Parsons shared the story about the cab driver with Intel CMO Steve Fund during a recent video shoot. It's only fitting: Not only have Intel's marketing campaigns earned plenty of buzz this year, but the brand has also received attention because Fund has engineered a kind of big bang of his own.

Robert Ascroft

In 2014, Intel recruited Fund from Staples to lead a major rebranding. In recent years, Intel had moved far beyond the microprocessor and PC, but there was still a problem: The brand's image remained rooted in the past, known to most consumers only via the "Intel inside" sticker on their laptops—even as its technology had moved far into the future.

"The word inside is such a powerful asset—it immediately signals Intel," Fund says. "But it literally almost rendered the brand invisible by the nature of the word itself and by the nature of Intel being inside of devices. We really needed to let the inside out."

So, Fund set out to connect the internal technology with external experiences that hit on pop culture moments. The effort started with "Intel Amazing," a 60-second, tour-de-force ad from mcgarrybowen that showed consumers all the things in American life Intel processors make possible—from prosthetic hands to DreamWorks animation and NASA missions. It was an ambitious opening salvo to a year of ambitious efforts.

Intel seized another opportunity at the Grammy Awards in February. In a collaboration with Lady Gaga, Intel used its video-projection technology to merge the singer's face with that of the late David Bowie as part of a tribute to him. To a world still stunned by Bowie's death, the video hit home. In addition to the 25 million people watching the broadcast, an accompanying campaign generated more than 120 news stories and drove brand lift by 122 percent when measuring benchmarks for how millennials saw Intel as an innovative brand, according to the company.

And in May, Intel programmed 100 drones to fly in sync to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony while creating a dazzling light show across the Palm Springs desert—a stunt that required FAA clearance. "The drones gave the appearance of fireworks in the sky," Fund says. They also broke a Guinness world record (most drones controlled from a single operator) and put Intel's logo in the air, drawing tons of media attention.

According to Teresa Herd, Intel's global creative director, tech companies often struggle to tell compelling stories about their work. Fund, she says, knows how to develop ideas that embed real technology into authentic experiences.

"He's got this amazing sense to know what will resonate with people," she says. "It's not even a tangible thing. It's not data driven, it's not analytical, he just has this sense of knowing what's going to resonate with consumers."

Fund has proven that across his tenure—from creating the America's Greatest Makers reality show for product designers to demonstrating the Intel Curie module at the ESPN X Games.

The efforts of Fund and his team have generated nearly 60 billion media impressions this year alone.

To Fund, the positive marketing and bottom-line results are not a coincidence, commenting: "I'm a fundamental believer that when you build your brand, you build your business."

Check out all of Adweek's 2016 Brand Genius winners.

This story first appeared in the October 24, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.

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@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.