Intel Debuts Centrino With Street Hoopla

Intel on Tuesday officially unveiled Centrino, its big bet on Wi-Fi technology as the future of mobile computing, with a variety of street-level marketing activities in New York City.

The centerpiece of Centrino’s launch was a keynote address by Intel CEO Craig Barrett. While Barrett was inside Hammerstein Ballroom’s Manhattan Center extolling the virtues of Intel’s new chip, magenta-clad messengers were outside encouraging passers-by to take a spin on the Net by using computers harnessed to their chests.

The messengers, part of a mobile army of 75 fanned throughout Midtown Manhattan, were one prong of a coordinated assault on the city by the chipmaker. Over at Rockefeller Center, Intel had a 16-member drill team, dressed in business suits, performing with laptops. At Macy’s in Herald Square, a radio station personality was broadcasting live from an Intel-themed display in the department store’s window this morning.

Meanwhile, Intel dispatched a dozen “mobile desks,” which were set up at various McDonald’s and hotels throughout Midtown to educate people to the benefits of wireless Internet connectivity.

The events culminated in an evening concert by pop group Barenaked Ladies back at Hammerstein Ballroom, tickets for which were given away at computer stores. (Barenaked Ladies are not new to Intel: The band played Bryant Park to celebrate the launch of the Pentium IV mobile processor in April 2002.)

The New York marketing blitz was the centerpiece of a rolling worldwide launch for Centrino that began in Tokyo, moved to Beijing, and crossed Europe. In all, 14 launch events were held worldwide.

Intel has bet heavily on Centrino, backing it up with a $300 million advertising blitz kicked off last week.

The street hoopla brought back some memories of the dot-com days. But Jodi McMaster, Intel’s director of corporate event marketing, said the events were carefully planned to push the message that Centrino was the future of mobile computing.

“What we wanted to do in New York was to create buzz and feet-on-the-street awareness of Centrino,” she said. “It’s brand awareness, but along with it we’re trying to get people aware of the promise it brings.”

McMaster said the New York street activities would be replicated in 12 to 14 U.S. cities in the coming weeks, with additional events, like seminars, to cater to the down-to-earth needs of business users.

Intel is the latest tech company to take to the streets of New York to get its message across. In the fall, AOL and MSN battled it out with dueling new Internet service offerings. AOL, for its part, had 2,000 subscribers to an event at Lincoln Center, with performances by Dana Carvey and Alanis Morissette

MSN, meanwhile, erected an 11,000 square foot dome in Central Park, dispatched hundreds of rollerbladers in butterfly costumes, and had Lenny Kravitz perform.

Intel made sure not to repeat one of MSN’s guerilla tactics that backfired when the police department ordered it to remove hundreds of MSN butterfly decals put on city sidewalks.

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