Why Intel’s Viiv is taking a dive

July 20, 2007, 7:13 PM UTC

Since its earnings call last week, Intel (INTC) has been getting the word out that it’s shifting the emphasis in its desktop PC marketing away from the Viiv brand and toward Core instead. (Viiv will still exist, but in a secondary role.) It’s not hard to understand why. Viiv was one of the most confusing branding campaigns in recent PC history.

In case you’re not familiar with Viiv – and chances are, you’re not – your first question is probably, “How do I pronounce that?” (It rhymes with “five.”)

Your second question is probably, “What does it do?” Well, it’s the name Intel attached to its line of chips for entertainment-oriented PCs. But what it actually does? That’s the problem. It doesn’t do much of value differently from any other new PC.

According to Intel’s marketing materials, Viiv is a “premier brand” for PCs “designed for digital entertainment.” It’s “complemented by services and applications that have been verified to work with Viiv technology,” so you can access movies, music and games through your computer. But every PC these days is designed for digital entertainment. And everyone is using software and services for movies, music and games. Viiv comes off as a bald-faced attempt to sell expensive chips to people who don’t know any better.

This is in marked contrast to Intel’s Centrino marketing campaign. Intel’s message behind its Centrino chip package was timely and effective: Centrino laptops came with built-in wireless networking capabilities at a time when buying wireless was confusing, and they offered power-saving efficiency that made laptops slimmer and lighter weight.

Centrino was about more than selling wireless to the masses. It delivered noticeable changes in the way laptops looked and performed. Business users embraced Centrino, and gave Intel a runaway hit; Dell (DELL), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and IBM were gung-ho about using it in their offerings.

If Intel wants to bring the success of its Centrino branding campaign to its desktop chips – and judging by the company’s margins last quarter, a brand boost would help – it seems there are a couple of key opportunities. Rather than simply selling speed with its Core chips (speed isn’t the selling point it used to be) and pushing multithreading (which non-geeks just don’t understand), Intel could put together a desktop platform that’s demonstrably quieter and more power efficient. And by pushing technology like Wireless USB, Intel could combat that tangle of peripheral cords that every PC user has come to know and hate.

By creating chip solutions that make non-mobile more pleasant to have around, Intel might successfully differentiate its products from those made by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) – and maybe recreate a little of that Centrino magic on the desktop.