Graham Kelly: A postcard from Vietnam

Graham Kelly_April2016.jpgGraham Kelly is our first regular contributor in a series of "Postcards from..." that highlights news, trends, innovations, observations and great work from around the region.

When I asked Kim what kind of topic I should write about, he gave me a very open brief. But the words: "choose something that caught your eye this month", stood out.  

So for my first postcard - sent appropriately enough from Ho Chi Minh's Tan Son Nhat International Airport - I'm going to talk about chatbots.

It's a tired old cliche that marketing should be a dialogue, and that brands need to start having "conversations with consumers". But with the renewed interest in all things chatbot-related, some of the hype may have a chance of becoming reality.

For those not familiar with the term, a chatbot is "a computer program designed to talk to you". At the risk of going all meta, I used a chatbot called Mitsuku to get that definition (
The flurry of interest in chatbots is being driven by that 800lb gorilla of the digital marketing scene, Facebook. Just last week at their F8 developer conference, they unveiled developer tools that will enable chatbots to be integrated into Facebook Messenger.  

Granted, chatbots themselves aren't new. ELIZA which simulates a session with a psychiatrist has been around since 1966 (you can try it for yourself here)

Indeed back in the 1990's chatbots were all the rage in the tech community; only to be met with a huge wave of indifference from the rest of the world.

This time promises to be different. Facebook Messenger chatbots will have a huge ready-made audience, with over 900 million people using the platform each month.  

Moreover, popular messaging apps Telegram and Kik already have "bot stores", while a host of other tech companies are busily investing in this area. Some enthusiasts are predicting a digital gold rush that could be as big as apps.

Chatbot Screenshot.jpgSo what might agencies and their clients do with chatbots? One obvious use is for e-commerce. Chatbots can act as a virtual salesperson, helping a customer select products by serving up advice accompanied by images and even product carousels. (Facebook showed a demo of ordering flowers this way during F8, you can see some of the dialogue on the screenshot left.)

Throughout a chatbot session there will be ample opportunities for advertising. You could slip in a relevant message about a promo, cross-sell another product or even just provide a little entertainment.

Of course, just because we can do this, doesn't mean consumers will buy into it. I can imagine it failing to take off - again - if the chatbot talks to you in repetitive, dumb, uninteresting ways. Conversely, chatbots that communicate clearly, intelligently and entertainingly could be a hit. And that's where creatives come in. Those positive qualities I've just described are all hallmarks of a great ad.  

Now, being writer-based, maybe I'm a bit biased, but I think chatbots could provide some fantastic creative opportunities. For one thing, you'd have the chance to define the brand's tone of voice (BMW would chat with you in a very different way than, say, Nike).  

Sure, there will be some mishaps along the way (witness the debacle over Tay, Microsoft's ill-fated attempt to be more interesting to teens).  But whatever happens, it ought to be interesting.

Graham Kelly is "Guest Chef" at Bates CHI&Partners Asia.


Nice postcard said:

Cool article Mr Kelly.
Geekie, but not too geekie for us traditional old guys.

Mate said:

That beard's got to go!!! A.

greg armshaw said:

Dislike the name "bot", it is almost as bad as "drone".

Apart from the name these little simulated conversationalists offer so much much than their telephonic cousins the interactive voice response system.

A lot of fun to be had, especially with surprise and delight - Bring on the easter eggs!

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