Category Archives: Microsoft

Focus Features promotes ‘Insidious’ with an AI bot. Should this scare you?

Creator and Robot SXSW

Japanese roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro unveils an android copy of himself at SXSW. Will marketing bots based on artificial intelligence help advertisers?

We love the idea of boosting a horror movie with an AI chatbot. Marketers looking to scale communications are watching Focus Features’ clever experiment in awe. Marketing bots are coming fast. But before we explain, let’s catch up on AI advances.

It’s been a whirlwind year so far for artificial intelligence. At SXSW Interactive in Austin this March, Japanese scientist Hiroshi Ishiguro presented an android that looked exactly like himself, capable of carrying on intelligent conversations in either English or Japanese thanks to Siri-like database matching, linguistic software and voice recognition. Days later, AlphaGo, an AI software developed by Google DeepMind, beat South Korean champion Lee Sedol at Go, a game multiple times more complicated than chess. And weeks later, Microsoft launched the silly Twitter bot Tay on the world, trying to demonstrate its AI could learn conversations by tweeting back and forth with users. Tay flamed out when online trolls taught it to say racist, violent things, forcing Microsoft to abort its Twitter experiment … but Tay did learn a human personality, albeit a mean one, quickly.

Artificial intelligence is no longer science fiction. It’s here to stay.

In marketing, AI algorithms and “bots” in recent years have earned a bad name, typically attributed to “black box” digital media buying systems that may opaquely distort ad campaigns with bad impressions, or bots that pretend to be human but are really designed to jack up clicks for inflating results. The media buyers who run today’s programmatic systems often invest a sizable portion of their time in monitoring digital ad campaigns for quality control—a war against bots, if you will. But now, some bots may be bringing benefits to marketing.

When marketing bots help promote a horror film

MIT Technology Review reports that some new mobile services such as Kik and Telegram have created “bot shops,” where AI virtual users provide everything from simple horoscopes (just fun) to helpful service and personal conversation. Focus Features used this AI-type system in Kik to promote the new film “Insidious: Chapter 3,” in a brilliant virtual conversation. In the movie, a girl named Quinn is stuck in bed, and needs to converse with the outside world. The Kik bot allowed you to do just that … with your personal conversation growing more and more intense.

Kik Insidious


Yikes. And well done. Just scanning those messages makes us feel like we’re inside the actual movie.

Marketers are watching this because one-on-one conversation agents could unlock value, in everything from explaining products to stamping out customer complaints. In call centers, human labor accounts for up to 85% of costs, while customers grow irate if hold times exceed a few minutes. Deploying bots in customer service could save companies millions while helping customers gain faster answers, in turn reducing customer churn.

When AI systems work well, they not only duplicate human intelligent conversation but do so at scale. Imagine a world where there was no more “on hold” time when you call a call center, and a friendly, Siri-type intelligence immediately took your complaint or order.

But can AI manage the real complexities of life?

But as the Tay debacle showed, AIs are still rough simulacrums at best, and prone to error, or worse, offense. The reason it took 20 years between IBM’s supercomputer Deep Blue beating Garry Kasparov in chess and AlphaGo whipping Sedol at Go this spring is chess, on average, has only 35 possible legal options per player move, while Go is far more complex, with approximately 250 game options to consider per player turn. AI can finally keep up with just 250 scenarios on a simple board. Real life has millions of possible turns in every human move. While marketers may rush soon to deploy AI bots to try to influence or serve customers more easily, they’ll need to tread carefully.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told a conference of developers this spring, “We want to take the power of human language and apply it more pervasively to all of the computing interface and the computing interactions.” But to paraphrase Microsoft’s twitter AI-bot Tay, as she went off the deep end about Hillary Clinton, beware of “a lizard person hell-bent on destroying America.”

Microsoft plans ads that monitor your emotion

One of the fallacies of marketing is we “target” people as if they were static bull’s-eyes — you there, in the affluent demo, married with kids, PRIZM category mid-life crisis with SUV, intent to buy a red convertible — when really people contain multitudes. Today you’re an office worker. Tonight a mom. Later tonight, a Glee-watching high schooler. Much later, a sexy vamp. Whatever you’re into, you’re into different things, yet marketers fail to recognize your emotional and modality states.

Microsoft will change that. News percolated today that the Redmond giant has a patent for an ad system that would recognize your emotional state, and then match corresponding advertisements. The patent gives a hypothetical example: “For instance, OMG, Inc., is an advertiser that owns bowling alleys and lounges specializing in birthday parties…” OMG wants to serve ads that go “Bang!” with excitement, but kids or adults who are feeling sad don’t react well to such ads. So being smart, OMG sets up multiple versions of its advertising creative, and when the scanner/camera notices the digital viewer looks sad or stressed, either suppresses the ad (no whiz-bang party for you glumster) or could pitch an alternative (come relax in our chill lounge…).

Microsoft calls this “emotional targeting.” You may ask, how in the world could a company track our emotions? Well, your laptop has a camera pointed at your head; Microsoft owns Kinect, which uses body-monitor scanning to allow cool video games, and Skype, where you share videos of your face; in fact, every company working on a smart TV is embedding video cameras aimed directly at you.

In George Orwell’s 1984 the TV sets watch people. In one scene the protagonist moved out of the room, around a corner, to open a book or journal to try to have privacy, but the monitors caught him. Are we afraid of what could happen if the devices we love to watch start watching us back? Or is this a natural extension of marketers trying to personalize offers meaningful to us by moving beyond data trails to direct observation?

If you’re curious, here’s a list of the ways Microsoft says it might track you:

The client devices … include, without limitation, personal digital assistants, smart phones, laptops, personal computers, gaming devices, or any other suitable client computing device. In some embodiments, the client devices include image capture and voice capture devices. The image capture devices include cameras, video cameras, etc. The voice capture devices include microphones, recorders, etc. The client devices … include a user and system information storage to store user and system information on the client device. The user information may include search histories, cookies, user identifiers, online activities, assigned emotional states, and passwords. The system information may include Internet protocol addresses, cached Webpages, and system utilization. 

Bing bids on Google for Cain’s traffic. Clever.

This is interesting for those who work in digital advertising. The Bing search engine is running a PPC campaign on Google search tonight bidding on the term “999 plan” — sure to be hot during tonight’s GOP debate telecast on CNN — throwing the Google searcher to a Bing search results page. I hit it myself trying to find details on Google for Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan and … yes … was impressed with Bing’s comprehensive results.

Well played, Bing. Microsoft, like Herman Cain, tonight you are showing balls.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

‘Free’ movies: Amazon’s brilliant move to the future

Evolving a business is difficult because it seemingly requires you to take your eye off what drove profits in the past to find what will bring strong margins tomorrow. But look ahead you must; after all, the business world is littered with cautionary tales of those who did not: IBM’s hardware obsession in the 1970s led it to miss the PC operating system opportunity; Kodak pushing film as digital cameras killed the photo developing industry; Microsoft wasting away first-mover advantage in tablets for nearly a decade to be beat by Apple’s iPad core.

So kudos to Amazon for making a brilliant evolutionary chess move. On Tuesday, Amazon launched a service giving away movie streaming to members who subscribe to its $79-a-year “Prime” premium shipping service. Amazon Prime was already one of the smartest moves in ecommerce, building loyalty among shoppers while charging them more for “free” 2-day shipping. (It’s “free” shipping, you see, if you spend $79 a year for access to it. And once you spend $79 a year, well you better buy a lot of books, spending more of your money to get more of that great “free” shipping.) Amazon Prime is a sticky pricing gambit that makes consumers feel good while sending dollars straight to Amazon’s bottom line.

Now, Amazon has made the shipping deal seem even sweeter by adding “free” access to 5,700 films and TV shows, giving Netflix a competitive whack at the same time. It’s an arrow shot straight at the future of digital content, while tying consumers to Amazon’s current core product, hard goods shipped by mail. All we can say is Amazon, your strategy is Prime.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Facebook, the operating system

Facebook pulls you further into its loyalty schemes this month with a few clever advances. gives Facebook users a way to find, create, or share Microsoft Office documents inside the Facebook ecosystem. Facebook’s Platform Showcase touts how major sites such as ABC, CNN, ESPN, NYTimes and Yelp are integrating FB functionality (“Look, honey, we can now share the news!!”). And back at the ranch, Facebook is running ads on its own user home pages promoting the “Like” button you’ll see across such partner sites — hoping you’ll click it to push that content around the stream to make all this document creating, web site partnering, and newsmongering work.

Razorfish’s Shiv Singh suggests Facebook will use data from users clicking “Like” around the Internet to build behavioral-targeted advertising, serving you marketing messages based on the fact you dig polka-dot bikini swimsuits. (Shiv, sorry, we’re paraphrasing.) Or the data could be collated and sold to advertisers and publishers to use in their own networks, with Facebook becoming the Experian-type list company of the entire Internet. We could get really crazy and suggest direct marketers will tap such lists, combining users’ self-admitted desires and the homophilic connections between them to drop junk mail into your house because your online friends love polka-dot bikini swimsuits. Imagine the irony of technology’s hippest online network making mail work better.

If all this sounds confusing, just imagine Facebook as a software platform running inside the Internet, building a level of utility that is hard to leave, adding open architecture that encourages others to plug into it. This strategy worked once for Microsoft. Someday, somewhere, we expect a college kid to launch a new sticky platform … and that one might run inside Facebook.

Image: Bekkchen

Google hunts Big Business (while mobile throws the spear)

An editor we know noticed today that Google is running banner ads at the top of, enticing a corporate audience to click through and learn how Google apps can run their enterprise better. The “Go Google” campaign has been out since mid-summer, so it’s time to wonder: What in the world is Google thinking, chasing big organizations?

Los Angeles, for one. The entire city government announced Tuesday it has approved a $7.2 million deal to run Google applications via contractor Computer Sciences Corp. That’s right. Police officer and firefighter email and related web apps will now float off local desktops into the cloud.

Google, whassup?

Google makes the vast majority of its moola from advertising associated with consumer web searches. Even if it were successful in making a dent in Corporate America, selling apps to seats for small fees, it might get a minor uptick in revenues. So why chase the enterprise software market? We see five reasons:

1. Search is going down. Consumer search usage is slipping. Google constantly releases data showing paid clicks are up, but much of that comes from overseas growth. Click over to Google Trends and type in any common products or services, and you’ll see aggregate search volumes in the United States and globally are sliding in most categories. (Try it here: Punch in “flowers,” “diamonds,” “auto repair,” and watch the demand curve fall.) This is driven by consumer adoption of social media and online networking as a new, real-time, more-trusted way to find things. Search still works … but like three broadcast TV channels suddenly surrounded by thousands of new cable options, the triad of Google, Yahoo and Bing face stiff competition from your college buddy making recommendations on Facebook.

2. Businesses are market levers. To fight search slippage, Google needs a one-to-many sale. Business organizations are the easiest point of entry to get thousands of users re-enamored with Google free apps … and search.

3. Redmond will get mad. The “Go Google” campaign also hurts Microsoft. You know, that bad boy that just launched the oh-so-sexy Bing. Google can’t be happy to see Redmond finally out with a hot search product, backed by a $100 million ad campaign launch. So Google is slapping Microsoft back where it hurts, in the business software arena.

4. Business users love cell phones. Google is getting buzz. And who is out with a hot new cell phone operating system? Why, Google Android, popping the lid off the smoking-hot Droid phone. Buzz on one side (apps) supports buzz on the other (mobile).

5. And Google needs cell phones to survive. This is the final, most telling point: mobile advertising. Google’s biggest threat is from mobile, where smart phones now come with do-anything apps that provide hundreds of points of entry into the internet … all bypassing the traditional Google search engine. Log on to an app for weather or traffic or sports scores and you’ve likely just skipped over In addition, mobile screens are tiny compared to PC screens, so even if you do use Google as your internet on-ramp, there’s less ad space to sell. So Google needs to own the mobile space, and fast.

Four billion proof points

This is no idle threat. There are now more than 4 billion mobile phone subscribers in the world, compared to about 1 billion computers. Wall Street tech guru Mary Meeker just noted that by 2010 we’ll have 10 billion total gadgets with screens in the world … and most won’t have an interface that houses Google search windows on web browsers. Markets with the greatest growth potential, such as China and India, are leaping right over computers to cell phones which are more affordable, just as powerful, and fit into a peripatetic lifestyle. Human interactivity is moving past your old-fashioned computer, and Google’s core business — search with lots of text ads — works best on those soon-to-be-outdated wide screens.

So Google wants office workers to notice that Google is the place to go for apps, and mobile phones, and yes, search. Put apps and mobile together, and you’ve got a survival strategy. Go, Google.

10-finger screens, yet no help for your remote

Clayton Miller has built a graphic user interface for computers that, yes, taps all 10 of your fingers. It is called 10/GUI. It is brilliant. And it is unlikely to ever see the light of day.

If you pan out like an angelic Walt Mossberg to look down from the clouds at humanity’s progress for the past 20 years, you’ll see cumbersome connections with technology. Each device — laptop, cell phone, television set — has a few common interface standards (say, most laptop screens tilt backward and use a QWERTY keyboard) but the real story is chaotic complexity. Gadget designs are all over the place. Sure, we have a common computer mouse, but good luck turning on the TV in your neighbor’s home or setting an alarm clock in a strange hotel room. Here’s a test: visualize where the “play” button is on your own home stereo. We bet you don’t know.

The disincentive of differentiation

Why are common interface standards so absent? Call it differentiation. First, technology moves quickly and devices keep changing; smart phones barely existing 5 years ago, and designers are still tweaking where buttons go on touch screens. Second, manufacturers continue adding “feature creep,” little tweaks to each device to try to defend margins. We didn’t ask for a video camera in our iPod Nano, but we got one. And third, the competitive marketplace is good for invention but not so fine for industrial standards. If your company’s product works similar to others then competitors can easily mimic you and steal your customers; it is better, for profits, to build a unique widget, sell the hell out of it, and block other companies from plugging in.

Consumers gain innovation but lose sanity in this process. The competitive market fails in improving consistent interface design. Incumbents with market share and installed customer bases (think Microsoft Windows systems on Dell laptops) have little incentive to change how you really interact with their devices; improving user interface would require huge hardware shifts, might make old products obsolete, and free you up to really shop around. And consumers also drive the fragmentation by buying new gizmos with new looks and feels, because shiny feels good, even if it means new shiny that doesn’t match the 20 other tools you have at home.

Darryl Ohrt suggests Clayton Miller may get bought out by Apple or Microsoft for his 10-fingered genius. We hope so, but alas, we fear the invisible hand of the free market has no need for 10 fingers.

Windows 7 party was so bad, you linked to it. Suckas.

This is complicated so pay close attention. Microsoft just gamed you, bloggers. Yes, Redmond distributed a video that comically showed nerds hosting a “Windows 7 Launch Party.” And like fish snapping to the bait, bloggers began reposting the video while laughing at it, saying Windows 7 was uncool. Windows 7. Windows 7. And the links spread. The bad Windows 7 viral went viral. Microsoft was uncool, out of touch, with Windows 7. Windows 7. Within weeks the video scored 638,000 views on YouTube, mostly among the influential tech set. NPR picked up the story. And millions of Americans are now thinking about Windows 7.

Microsoft knows there is no ad placement better than the one that creates scandal. Windows 7. Very. Well. Played.

Good Outlook, bad Outlook

Back in the old days, say 2007, if a huge corporation changed a product and you didn’t like it, your options were few: call to complain; write a letter or email to the company president; play your contacts in the press and hope that someone picks up the story.

Times have changed. When Microsoft announced that the 2010 version of its flagship email product Outlook will not render web pages correctly, but instead use Word as a “render engine” to give a strange, squashed version of HTML email inserts such as e-newsletters, users went up in arms. A group started a viral campaign using Twitter and the web site to demand Microsoft rethink its strategy.

An old product change, but new user complaint tools

Microsoft actually made this change already in the 2007 version of Outlook. Prior to that, email newsletters appeared in Outlook laid out exactly like a web page (above left) while the 2007-onward versions of Outlook squished things inside Microsoft Word (above right). The issue will mostly affect marketers who push professionally designed emails into recipients’ In boxes, and could conceivably reduce email newsletter response rates — one of the few remaining bright spots in internet banner advertising CTRs.

User complaints are spreading: The top 10 ad blog Brandflakes led with the headline “Windows users: Another 5 years of crappy email?” and the topic is beginning to trend in Twitter. Microsoft has responded to the campaign noting its Word editor lets users create graphic-rich emails without HTML.

We can only guess at Microsoft’s motive: by entangling email tightly with its PC-based Word software program, it defends the Windows mothership against the rapid movement of users to other online, free, “cloud” communication options.

Unlike back in 2007, Twitter and social media have gotten a giant’s attention. Right or wrong? Look at the choices above and you be the judge.

Microsoft ends Encarta. Will your memory be next?

Microsoft has announced it will discontinue the Encarta encyclopedia this fall — a sad bit of news for those of us who grew up struggling with DOS and floppy discs and were suddenly delighted to find all the world’s information on a set of computer CDs. More than a victory for Wikipedia, the move points to a future where storing information locally really doesn’t matter that much anymore, since you can rapidly pull anything out of the cloud.

Which brings up your mind. We have to wonder, what is the rationale for learning new languages or memorizing presidents if all that data can be transcribed and pulled forth at the touch of a keystroke? In a few hundred years, human beings may be prized more for their ability to search and less for their ability to remember. Computer banks may become the real memory systems; just as social media now has extended our personal Dunbar numbers to allow for 1,500 relationships instead of 150, it may be more efficient to let data chips record the world, and we’ll simply learn to call up the right search query. With the ubiquity of GPS and video and human relationship mapping, pulling the universe together is only a step away. Why should we have to remember all that?

Just a thought. We had another point, too, but forgot.

Via Jonathan Nafarrete.