Internet Love: Intel Shows How to Sex Up a Tech Survey

Sure, it’s a survey commissioned by a major tech company, which should trigger “Star Trek”-style alarms in most newsrooms. The headline, though, might draw some journalistic interest considering recent Dow Jones gyrations: “Most Adults Find Internet Access Essential to Daily Life in Today’s Economy: Intel Survey.”

But just to make sure that the world’s top microprocessor company had us hooked, Intel threw us this subhead: “Majority of Women Would Choose Internet Access over TV, Some Over Sex.”

Those crashing sounds you then heard were Web editors, newspaper headline writers and morning show producers all over the world stumbling over their ergonomically correct chairs to type out blather like “Many Prefer Internet Over Sex,” “The Internet is Better than Sex!” “No Headache Needed: 46% of Women Choose Internet Over Sex,” “U.S. Adults Choose Internet Over Sex,” “Logging On to the Abstinence Network” (a personal fave). The most popular headlines on this topic were variations on the old “No Sex Please, We’re British” saw; “No Sex Please, We’re Surfing the Web,” “No Sex Please, We’re Online.”

No news judgment, please; we’re reporters trying to reel in eyeballs in an ultra-competitive news environment. And look! TechNewsWorld is writing about it!

Yet my takeaway from the survey is the fact that when journalists in December 2008 are given a choice between writing a headline about a survey that tries to illuminate the current economic situation or writing a headline that puts on the red light about sex, men and women — drum roll please — it’s all about the horizontal bop.

I know, I know: I can hear everyone tuning up their impressions of Captain Renault from “Casablanca”: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that sex still sells here!”

The View Inside Intel

True, “sex sells” isn’t breaking headline news, except maybe on a very, very slow day on MSNBC. But even though Intel does want to see more sales of Web-access devices containing their technologies, and the ultimate goal of marketing/public relations is to get those news puppets dancing on their strings, there are some interesting factoids in the survey, done online with 2,100-plus respondents:

  • 65 percent feel they can’t live without Internet access
  • 71 percent said it’s important/very important to have Internet-centric devices to deal with the current economy
  • 84 percent have saved money by comparison shopping online
  • 66 percent saved by simply shopping online
  • 65 percent saved by shopping for discounts, promotions and coupons online

When asked to rate discretionary items, having Internet access polled higher than gym memberships, dining out, shopping for clothes or having cable TV — which, of course, can mean only one thing: When we’re in front of our computers, we’re all naked, fat from eating too many bologna sandwiches, and we have “Wheel of Fortune” on our local network affiliates blaring in the background.

Speaking of television, more than half of all age groups surveyed would rather go two weeks without it than give up their Internets for one week. That’s men AND women, for those of you who think all guys come out of the womb gripping an ESPN-branded universal remote in our tiny pink hands.

But here’s the golden news nugget in all this, as determined by the headlines seen on Google News and Yahoo News; 46 percent of women surveyed and 30 percent of the men would rather go without sex for two weeks than give up the Web for the same period of time. That’s it. That’s the only sexy part of the survey compared to all the other data points mentioned.

“People have definitely focused on that,” Alison Wesley, Intel corporate communications, said to me in a classic example of media relations understatement. “I guess my high-level answer to you from Intel is that most journalists found the sex questions the most surprising, and it’s definitely been the most discussed aspect of the survey, but for us that wasn’t the most fascinating or most interesting part of the survey.”

Wesley backs that up with an item posted on “The Inside Scoop” Intel blog, where her corporate communications colleague Kari Aakre, posting from home because of bad weather in the Bay Area (hmmm, Web-enabled telecommuting) mentions the buzz in the traditional media and the blogosphere about the sex part of the survey, but says what’s more fascinating to her is the economic aspects of the poll.

Wesley thinks that after a weekend of news items that included another major Wall Street fraud, a bombing in Iraq and somebody throwing their shoes at President Bush, maybe people were ready for some diversion. “I feel like with so much doom and gloom, people were happy to see something lighthearted. But no, the intention was to take a look at how people are using the Internet, especially in today’s economy, and most of the results indicate that people are prioritizing the Internet over other discretionary items.”

Check out the comments on the Aakre blog posting at “The Inside Scoop”: Less than a handful of the Web surfers are talking about the sex results. “Most of the people are talking about, ‘What does this mean?'” Wesley said. “Do they think it’s a good thing or a bad thing? They’re delving into the issues that they think are fascinating, not what is necessarily making a headline. That’s the whole point with social media and blogs, for people to have this communication, whereas news is the filter.”

Judging from the traditional media headlines, that filter needs a good scrubbing.

Sexing Up the Intel Brand?

Aegis Resources principal and tech marketing specialist Merrill Chapman has written about Intel making the branding transition from processors to consumer products. He sees the survey and the resulting focus on sex as part of the same marketing shift that included the “Intel Inside” jingle and the Blue Man Group TV ads.

“Putting some provocative questions on there guarantees lots of attention, and people like yourself pile in to write about it,” Chapman told me. “It’s fun. Sex sells, dude, you know that. The eyes widen, the pupils dilate, the blood flows to the surfaces. But my take on it is Intel is looking at the next huge wave in computing, and it can’t be business because business is highly saturated.”

That means putting Intel inside all the other devices in the home that help men, women, couples and families manage their entertainment and connections to the outside world via the Internet. “We all have computers at home, but there’s a lot we’re not doing with it. But we’re starting to. What Intel is doing is having some fun, but trying to establish themselves as a thought-leader.”

The traditional media — and more than a few online news sources — tried to establish themselves as dirty-thought-leaders with the Intel survey. No questions about the small sampling of those surveyed, compared to the six and a half billion estimated global Web surfers. No follow-up on the economic aspects; some stories didn’t even mention those findings, focusing primarily on images of men and women in their beds staring at their, er, laptops.

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