Are conversational ads the future of our industry?

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Croud's Lisa Sajwani looks at the possibilities of conversational ads.

It’s that time of year again when every marketer out there is trying to make predictions on trends for 2019. Being able to outline predictions for the bigger picture, as well as register the finer details, can help fine tune your media planning. And one of the most promising topics for the year ahead is the future of conversational ads.

Though chatbots have been around for quite a while (53 years to be exact; we may have crossed paths with them in the past via IBM’s Watson, Google Now or even Siri), the idea of being able to communicate with consumers via artificial intelligence for the means of advertising really first started to dawn on marketers in 2016 with Twitter. Tweeters were asked a multiple choice question, and by choosing to answer, their response was tweeted out with a branded hashtag. This of course, was a blatant attempt to get users to advertise their brand, but it didn’t catch on quite as well as they had hoped. After all, people don’t like being actively sold to; they prefer to buy.

In that same year, Facebook introduced conversational ads via chatbot. And this is where marketers really sat back and took notice. Consumers clicked on ads to then be sent a conversation box via Facebook Messenger. It looked as if someone was communicating with them, giving them answers that they sought out, but in a far quicker and far less stressful way than if they were to call up and be forced to face dreary lift music or wait 45-minutes. This was all done via artificial intelligence. No human communication involved.

During 2018, Facebook released data that revealed that some two billion messages are exchanged between people and businesses monthly, with 53% of people more likely to shop with businesses they can message. And this new way of advertising has brought the façade of one-to-one communication via artificial intelligence that has catalysed the growth and importance of personalisation in advertising.

Fast forward to 2019 and we have two major possible game changers: Watson Ads Omni, creators of a supercomputer that incorporates IBM’s expertise in natural language processing, and Google AdLingo, which provides you with the option of creative control over your ad, available on the Google Ad Network. The reason I think they could be game changers is because they both offer something different to previously-seen conversational ad structures: they are created and appear to a consumer via display advertising, as opposed to sending you to a conversation box.

This could be huge. This could lead to a shift in how we advertise. Not only can you now book appointments at a spa via an ad, but you can book a test drive if you are currently in-market for a new car. Instantaneous just got really instantaneous. But that’s not it. If our goal now is to get consumers to stay on the ad, driving traffic to website becomes obsolete, for we are bringing the website to the consumer. The problem we face with websites currently is that they were originally created for desktop use only.

As the shift to mobile continues, though web designers try to adapt websites for mobile, conversational ads could take flight. This could further push websites out the door. How we measure success will change. How we study consumer behaviour will also change. And how we communicate with the consumer seems likely to change too. So the question then becomes: are brands likely to move to conversational ads?

Choosing to incorporate this channel as part of your media planning is not easy. Firstly, it’s expensive - not only will you need a creative team to design the look, feel and experience of the ad, you will need qualified developers to actually make it happen. Some advertisers won’t have the resource for this, and those that do might question whether it will pay to get teams to spend a significant amount of time and money.

And then there is the fact of choosing the platform and structure to suit your advert and target consumer. For example, using Facebook Messenger bots for booking hair and nail appointments seems fitting, but with the creative now available to you via Google AdLingo, a huge car manufacturer might find visuals accompanying their ad via display far more effective. Some brands may even find using both to convey a message or to reach different audience segments to be the most powerful tool.

Grand View Research has predicted that the chatbot market will reach $1.25 billion by 2025. What’s even more interesting is that 61% of European agencies claimed that they used artificial intelligence to deliver better targeting in 2018, in comparison with thee 25% who claimed they used it to inform and/or deliver better creative. But with platforms such as Google AdLingo now out, will more companies use AI to deliver better targeting or deliver better creative? Not to mention the opportunities available to us if it becomes possible to collect the data for retargeting - even if consumers do not purchase, they are essentially telling us more about themselves when they answer our questions, making the way we choose to retarget customers far more relevant and hopefully, more effective.

It will be interesting to see the stats for 2019. To learn whether these platforms bring out further catalysation of personalisation in advertising. But it’ll be even more interesting to see if the reasons agencies and/or brands use artificial intelligence will change, given the new opportunities now readily at our fingertips.

Lisa Sajwani is a strategy and planning executive at Croud.

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