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Brouhaha over Intel branding

Judging by the reaction to the new naming scheme for upcoming processors, you'd think the chipmaker had committed high treason.

Core i3, i5, i7. A straightforward, if not insipid, branding scheme, right? Wrong. Those alphanumeric identifiers are fighting words.

Last week, Intel announced a new branding scheme for its upcoming processors. In a blog, spokesman Bill Calder wrote that the branding will be "simplified into entry-level (Intel Core i3), mid-level (Intel Core i5), and high-level (Intel Core i7)." Intel calls the "i" suffix an identifier.

The upcoming Lynnfield chip for desktop PCs, for example, will be available as either Intel Core i5 or Intel Core i7 depending upon the feature set and capability. The upshot of the new branding is to make it easier for less tech-savvy consumers to readily identify classes of Intel chips based three simple identifiers, according to Calder.

But judging by the tenor of many of the comments attached to Calder's brand structure blog, you would think the chipmaker had committed high treason.

In the minds of some, it did. The shortcomings of the current naming scheme notwithstanding, many tech-savvy consumers have gotten used to it. For example, Core 2 Quad means a chip built on the Core 2 architecture with 4 processing cores. Core 2 Duo indicates two cores.

One of the most common criticisms cited in the comments section is that i3, i5, and i7 are too vague. "Above all, I'd like to see...at a glance how many cores and what features they have (or have not)," one comment said. Another comment suggested that Intel add more identifiers. For example, Intel Core i5 4100, where 4 is the number of cores and 100 is a speed rating.

Yet another idea was this: Intel/name/number/year, where "name" is the product name, "number" is a bigger-is-better ranking, and "year" the year the architecture was released.

And another: "Either ditch the Celeron, Pentium and Xeon names completely or embrace them completely. These are fairly well known as the 'good, better, best'."

This latter comment addresses probably one of the most serious transgressions in the minds of tech-savvy consumers. Why reinvent the wheel if it's not much of an improvement, if any at all? Ford Motor retired the venerable Taurus brand (once the best-selling sedan in the U.S.) and replaced it with "500" only to reinstate Taurus when new CEO Alan Mullaly took over and realized that it was absurd to squander the brand equity invested in the Taurus name.

"We're listening," Calder said, in a phone interview. He added that Intel is looking at ways to make additional technical information about the processors more accessible.

Deborah Conrad, vice president and director of corporate marketing, said there is method in Intel's madness.

"As I have read today's posts, I thought it time to clarify a few things, since I am responsible for marketing and branding at Intel," she wrote in response to some of the comments.

"First, an important clarification. We are not going to have a lineup of names for each derivative, for example a Core i(n) for every flavor of processor. Instead, there will be just three - Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7. And in each, there will be a few versions, but a consumer won't need to see that level of detail (unless they elect to, of course)," she said.

The parenthetical "unless they elect to" means, presumably, that consumers will be able to drill down and get all the details they need via tools such as the Intel Processor Finder.

"Right now we have so many variants, with names that are confusing (Duo, Quad, etc), that moving to a simple 'good, better, best' approach makes the most sense," Conrad said.

Conrad concludes: "There is no easy way out. We have a lot of products in the market today, with a whole new lineup coming out. We can't change the names of products that are out there, but we can change the pattern of naming moving forward, and make it intuitive, which is what we did."