The new ads will allow users to ask questions and receive answers through IBM’s powerful Watson cognitive system.
As advertisers struggle to get consumers to click on ads, IBM’s recently acquired The Weather Company is now betting big on getting people to talk to their ads. The company recently announced an ambitious new ad program that will utilize IBM’s innovative artificial intelligence supercomputer Watson to create genuinely interactive ads.
The idea behind the new ads is to “create a one-to-one connection with the consumer” according to a company press release. They want to achieve the marketer’s dream of a creating a personalized, relevant, and valuable ad and using Watson’s powerful computing they believe they can also accomplish the ad seller’s goal of making such an advertisement scalable to millions of users.
Consumers will be able to ask questions of the ads and get real-time answers from Watson using its machine learning and natural language capabilities. As you use Watson more, Watson will know you better and in theory be able to provide better answers. It will also be able to provide better information about you for advertisers. This is akin to some of the new offerings coming from Google’s Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s Siri.
For example, one might ask what to make for dinner and provide some ingredients you have on hand. Or, Watson could suggest components based on location and weather information from The Weather Company or the advertisers. Concerned about allergies, ask Watson is the soap you are planning to buy has any known allergic reactions. The possibilities are wide open; the question is whether consumers will take to it.
IBM and The Weather Company are betting they will. “The dawn of cognitive advertising is truly a watershed moment. Now as part of IBM, we have even more tools and technologies at our disposal to inspire innovations within advertising, artificial intelligence, and storytelling,” said Domenic Venuto, general manager, consumer products, The Weather Company. “This is a huge opportunity to expose consumers to all of the surprising and delightful experiences that Watson has in store for them – and to make advertising a precious interaction for both our fans and our marketing partners, which is always our goal.”
The new ads will launch in Fall of 2016 with Unilever, Campbell Soup Co, and GSK Healthcare (a unit of GlaxoSmithKline) as the first companies to sign on. While the Watson Ads will only be available on The Weather Company’s digital properties, in the beginning, the goal is to expand this ad tech to other platforms and apps eventually, and possibly even to other media like TV and billboards.
IBM’s acquisition of The Weather Company (except for its traditional TV channel property) surprised many. Initially, considered a move to gain access to the company’s troves of user data (such as location and weather) the acquisition is increasingly being seen in the light of its advertising potential and for the development of more consumer-facing products, like these new ad formats.
Jeremy Steinberg, The Weather Company’s global head of sales, sees the new ads as a breakthrough for the whole industry. He told The Wall Street Journal, “We believe this capability is going to be completely transformative to the industry. Cognitive advertising is the new frontier. With Watson Ads, we believe that we are humanizing the ad experience for consumers.”
IBM does seem focused on changing the world of advertising with Watson. Earlier this month in other news IBM’s Watson was being touted as the force powering Equals 3’s new tool for marketers and advertisers called Lucy. IBM sees the powerful potential for Watson’s cognitive computing to transform advertising.
The developments are welcome, as advertising is in need of transformation. In her latest annual and now famous Internet trends report, Mary Meeker pointed to the dilemma facing advertisers, citing a recent, famous PageFair report that found 420 million people use mobile ad blockers globally, up 94 percent in just one year.
It is clear that advertisers need to find new and better ways to engage with consumers. Will Watson-powered cognitive ads bring that change is the question that remains?