‘Alexa, order me a cocktail’: Diageo and Dentsu Aegis test voice activation in the connected bar

Connected devices, the internet of things and voice activation: all innovations the modern marketer usually confines to the bounds of the home. But in Cannes this year Diageo has teamed up with Dentsu Aegis agencies Isobar and iProspect to bring these technologies into a new consumer market: the bar.

The team has set up what Matt Gee, head of digital transformation at Isobar, classes as a “test and learn” initiative – albeit it under the sweltering sun on his parent company’s beach. Delegates order a cocktail or mocktail using a unique demo set-up fronted by Gee and Peri Antoniou, Diageo’s new technology and media innovation manager.

When asked for a drink, Alexa inquires if the guest would prefer something citrusy, fresh, fruity or intense. All cocktails – gin-based for now – have been created by Diageo mixologist Rob Poulter, and as well as hearing Alexa’s description of each cocktail, users are able to check out the recipes on an accompanying tablet.

Once their order is confirmed, guests’ drinks choices are sent as a notification to their waiter’s phone.

The demo, which has been set up with as an A/B experience in Cannes, was designed with two aims in mind: to take away pain points from the ordering experience and to uncover the point at which consumers and machines best intersect. It also no doubt falls under Diageo's wider strategy to reach younger audiences with digital technologies.

“We’re looking at things like how trigger words around flavours influence product choice and selection, and how accompanying visuals – which are going to be increasingly integrated into voice interfaces in the future – also play a role in our choices and selections,” said Gee.

Most brand experiments in the connected world have so far been confined to the home, with the fridge that reorders more food when it knows you’re running low being the poster child of the new marketing era. Gee believes the industry hasn’t experimented too much outside of these boundaries so far because of the complexities of other scenarios.

“When you start designing voice interfaces in more physical spaces where you’ve got a lot of people, you’ve really got to think about the whole overall design of the experience,” he said. “It’s not just the voice interface alone as a siloed activity [that you need to consider], but how that really interacts with all the points along the process, which are not only customers, not only the ordering interface, but also the staff.”

Gee added that while voice interface out of the home has the potential to increase the value of brands, marketers need to consider the usefulness and the purpose of the process first, and ally consumers with this medium that is relatively under-utilised in the west.

“Once you’ve built that type of relationship around utility, [then you can ask] how you can extend that into the brand engagement space as well,” he said. “So build the trust, build the behaviour, and then there are multiple opportunities to extend that into much more of a branded relationship.”

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