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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Ariana Callender

February 20, 2017

COMM 130: Turow

Chatbots:

The Future of Advertising?

Advertising has long been a strictly defined means to sell, but that hasn't stopped advertisers from trying to find new and creative ways to market their products. The use of chatbots in advertising is (and will increasingly be) the exemplar of that pursuit. Beginning with the 1994 advent of the “Chatterbot”, advertisers have sought out ways to make their marketing more personable. Originally, the “Chatterbot” was defined as a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users. Though the software has changed in name, its principles have remained the same. Chatbots, which became popular on social media messaging apps, have revolutionized the world of customer service, e-commerce, and messaging, and have the ability to revolutionize all online marketing.

To best understand the potential application of chatbots in advertising, one must be generally aware of the way in which the technology works. The key to understanding chatbots is to keep in mind that their goal is not just the simulation of conversation, but rather the simulation of meaningful conversation. There are two main types of chatbots that function via different methods of communication; some chatbots function based on a rule set, while others are powered by artificial intelligence. The chatbots that this paper will explore are a form of artificial intelligence that are able to conduct conversations through recognition of inputted cue words or phrases that prompt a pre-programmed response meant to meaningfully move the conversation forward.

Chatbots have evolved over the course of an extensive history of development and experimentation. The entire conversation surrounding chatbots began with ELIZA, a program created by Joseph Weizenbaum that was able to successfully convince users that they were talking to another human being. Though Weizenbaum did not bill his creation as any form of artificial intelligence, ELIZA was able to give off the impression of intelligence and understanding via use of programmed inputs and outputs--the exact model that all chatbots have imitated since. In the years since the creation of ELIZA, chatbots have grown immensely in function. Now chatbots can do more than solely simulate conversation; they can be used for gaming and real-time web browsing and searches. Additionally, chatbots have developed in their language abilities, moving from static pre-programmed responses to being able to learn from user jargon while having conversations. Due to these capabilities, the technology is often used in part with online dialog systems on customer service sites, messaging services, and as automated online assistants.

Developers have long touted chatbots as the technology of the future as outlined on forums like Slack and Reddit. Chatbots can even been seen featured in some facets of popular culture, like the movie “Her” where the protagonist falls in love with the voice of Samantha, his new artificial intelligence operating system. However, even with this publicity and long history, chatbots did not enter mainstream online activity until very recently. Now, where Chatbots find some of their best use and potential is in the field of advertising. Chatbot technology has already been integrated into advertisements on social media platforms like Facebook. There, Facebook's Messenger App has integrated chatbots that can act like their own apps within Facebook's service. There, chatbots are able to accomplish two main operations; they can be used to order goods and services and can recognize cue words and offer a service related to the particular cue given. Additionally, chatbots are able to gather and remember personal data, allowing brands to target their marketing across specific sites like a form of improved and ultra-personalized cookie use.

As industries have watched the growth of chatbots, companies have increasingly become proponents of implementing their use into business models and advertising strategies. This fervent support for the use of chatbots is not limited to any one industry--such support can be seen across banking, publishing, and social media companies. Proponents of the technology argue that chatbots can act as a new form of personable marketing, customer service, means to gather insights directly from customers, collect targeted consumer data, and push relevant content and brands to specific consumers. These methods would be especially useful in (for example) the banking industry, where use of chatbots could act as the company's personalization strategy in advertising, goods, and customer service. Such implementation would create automated industry--no turnover, no “peak times”, customer engagement and attraction, and ensured brand consistency in both marketing and product. Due to these projected business improvements, advertisers are increasingly encouraged to use chatbots as an improvement to traditional advertising. This promotion of chatbots has made the technology commonplace, and one can note the technology's increasing implementation across industries.

However, the use of chatbots has also garnered its fair share of opposition and concern. Many critics' first argument is that chatbots do not serve a real purpose--the bots are not solving any existing problems. In keeping with this argument, critics note the following: “They don't solve a problem… they just want… to provide a bot in the fastest way possible to cash in on the hype.” Others argue that chatbots are not a perfect technology. In 2016, just a day after Microsoft released chatbot Tay, the coding behind the bot was corrupted by user jargon and it began sharing hateful, profane, and racist messages on Twitter. Though chatbot technology has certainly evolved in the past year, this particular incident is not isolated and is one that brands would do well to keep in mind when considering or increasing usage of chatbots. As a company, it is important to keep in mind the image of one's brand, and rogue, disrespectful chatbots could ruin even the most carefully constructed brand image in just one inappropriate advertisement. A final caution outlined by critics is the legal risk taken on by using chatbots in any aspect of business. This concern encompasses various aspects of chatbot conversation--giving improper information or advertisement, abusive conversation, legal instances in which the bot might need to outline terms and conditions to a consumer, etc. While these concerns should be kept in mind for further development, they should not put an end to increasing the use of chatbot marketing.

Despite the aforementioned concerns regarding chatbot functionality, there are many advantages--to both consumers and marketers--to putting into effect chatbot advertising. Firstly, chatbots can streamline ordering processes for consumers. This is evidenced by Facebook chatbot features that combine their targeted sponsored ads and chatbot messaging. By first advertising a product, and then easily allowing a consumer to buy the good, chatbots are streamlining user engagement and return on advertisements. Secondly, on the marketing side of the equation, chatbots allow for significantly easier and almost instantaneous measure of engagement. On this subject, Adelyn Zhou of Topbots writes, “In traditional online advertising, we call a click of an ad or play of a video ‘engagement.' Engagement with a chatbot, on the other hand, is an active conversation with a user.” This innovation is one that originally excited advertisers across industries for growing chatbot development, and still remains one of the best arguments for chatbot implementation.

This idea of chatbots fostering advertisement engagement beyond clicks is particularly enticing to marketers. Often, in traditional advertising, there is no way to ensure that a potential consumer remains engaged or makes a purchase, but with the personalized conversation of a chatbot, advertisers can finally count on consumer engagement. In addition to unprecedented engagement, chatbots allow advertisements to be more personal than ever before. In another article by Zhou, she writes, “Users converse directly with chatbots just like they do with their family and friends. In this highly personal and conversational setting, chatbots can ask questions too intrusive to be in traditional ads.” These conversations are also more persuasive than traditional advertisements. Will Knight of MIT writes that, as chatbots are meant to recognize and emulate humans, they are able to use social skills and the power of persuasion to convince consumers to buy various products. This way, the advertisements seem more like suggestions from a friend rather than an overt selling tactic. These obvious improvements to traditional advertisements bolster the argument for increasing chatbot use in advertising.

As with any technological innovation, chatbots serve some advertising needs better than others; for some industries, chatbots will act as a revolutionary force in advertising, but for others, chatbots won't do much to augment preexisting business. As a result, service-based industries and companies look to benefit the most from the use of chatbots in advertising and daily conduction of business. Jeanine Poggi writes that (of these service based industries) travel oriented companies will really benefit from the use of chatbots as they will create both relevant, interactive advertisements and streamline the process of using the given services. As Poggi has illustrated, there are mutual benefits to service based companies using chatbots in advertising and beyond. Additionally, in these industries, it would be easiest for marketers to implement chatbots as native advertisements. Emi Gal, CEO of Teads Studio, spoke to this at a conference in 2016, stating that such companies could incorporate chatbots into videos or pull them up to provide brochures or travel availability. Gal additionally emphasized that chatbots will be especially important in future voice technologies. He, and others, also argue that service-based companies can most easily integrate chatbots into native advertisements. For example, while on a health advising website (like WebMD), one could begin to converse with a health advising chatbot that could advertise through recommendation of specific medications.

While it's easy to see the natural implementation of chatbots into advertising and even society as a whole, there are also long-term implications of inserting such technology into daily life. As much research on chatbots points out, people often feel much more comfortable sharing personal information with an automated system than they do with traditional advertisements. While this is great for marketers looking to build more of a profile on their consumers, it puts the consumer at risk of sharing too much information, perhaps with a corrupted chatbot. Another implication is the idea of domination and bombardment imposed by chatbots. Analysts write that, especially in the lives of millennials, chatbots will replace other social interactions. In their current use, chatbot advertisements are able to just pop up on their own, inviting consumers to converse with ease.

This subtle domination has the potential to extend to all areas of interaction as chatbot use grows. Additionally, the use of chatbots creates legal questions that might require legislation, as the bots themselves do not have the capability to understand or interpret legality in their conversations. Another long-term issue with the increasing use of chatbots is the potential of eliminating the need for jobs currently held by people. Discussing chatbots ultimately becomes a question of human vs. machine. Lauren Friedman writes that Generation X-ers are more apprehensive about the use of chatbots than millennials are, as they view the technology as what it might be--life taken over by technology. It is for these reasons, and many more, that the implications of chatbots extends far beyond improved advertising, but rather shows the potential of chatbots to change human existence.

In summary, there are many present and future opportunities for the use of chatbots in advertising. As of now, chatbots are revolutionizing traditional advertisements on Facebook Messenger and other messaging platforms; service-based companies are using such advertising to promote easy ordering of their goods. Chatbots are even improving insights in advertising, both directly from consumers and in the measurement of consumer engagement. In the future, chatbots will be seen in all aspects of advertising, directly in videos and advertising to consumers via voice technology rather than just in automated text. While there are obvious concerns as to how chatbots will increase the role of technology in both society and industry, those concerns can be leveraged with the obvious improvements to businesses, marketing, and consumer experience. Whether or not chatbots will replace all traditional advertising remains to be seen, but chatbots are certainly on course to revolutionize industry one automated conversation at a time.

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