A look at the negative perception of bots in marketing
A couple of months ago I downloaded the app QuizUp. A friend of mine loves it, and seeing as we were both waiting for our own separately delayed trains, we played against each other online. Great fun.
"Always ensure there is a human involved." Mike Florence, PHD
Over the next few weeks I kept playing it, but after a while I started to realise that I was often playing against bots. They became easily identifiable, with their bizarre names and easy to spot patterns of answering questions. So QuizUp quickly lost its lustre.
I have not played it for weeks now, and would have forgotten all about it, if it were not for my reading of this article on a marketing campaign on the dating app Tinder for the movie Ex Machina. I think my abandoning of QuizUp has a lot in common with the underwhelming response to this campaign.
Given the premise of the movie (a young computer programmer develops feelings for an AI humanoid), the concept of creating a Tinder profile that is actually a bot, and who asks, “what makes you human?” can certainly be seen as clever.
However, the general reaction to this campaign was a negative one, with people commenting that they will not now go and see the movie, or denouncing it purely as spamming.
I understand this reaction. Tinder users are either a) going to see through it immediately and just classify it as more spam, to the detriment of the site, or b) they will fall for it and just end up feeling duped. Both are the kind of reactions that you do not want your audience to be experiencing.
Considering that ‘creating a personalized user experience’ is such a big thing at the moment, there appears to be a fundamental lack of understanding about what a Tinder user actually wants, and how they expect to be treated.
Mike Florence, head of planning at Ph.D., has 7 rules of personalisation, one of which is: Always ensure there is a human involved.
Clearly this is where the Ex Machina campaign fell down. But fair play to them for trying something new, and conceptually it was strong, in relation to the tie in with the movie theme. But ultimately, and vitally, they forgot the most important thing: Is the audience going to have an enriched experience from this? The answer is categorically no.
The Ex Machina campaign lacks empathy and can be accused of that big marketing faux pas of tricking and misleading the viewer.
Bots do get a bad press. This article from Lutz Finger (Sounds like a bot, looks like a young Charles Dance) is indicative of the ‘dark world’ rhetoric that often accompanies talk of bots. Twitter has long been plagued by millions of fake accounts, often bots. Bots allegedly create 24% of tweets. Any platform or brand that has a significant amount of bot activity on it will naturally suffer a knock to its integrity.
$6.3bn of advertising spend will be lost to bots in 2015, according to this article in the Drum. Basically a lot of content will be ‘viewed’ by something without any eyes or a wallet. I’m not sure how true this will turn out to be, but it is this kind of coverage that makes it nigh on impossible for bots to shake off the stigma of spamming/phishing and general fakery.
I’m not about to get a run of T-shirts done with “Bots are People Too” emblazoned on the front, but they can be useful. Not all bots are bad. A lot of these automated accounts provide useful data, and can spread interesting, useful content to a lot of very real followers.
And algorithms go beyond the realms of the bot of course. For example, Google Penguin helps your website, with its well thought out content, achieve the strong SEO ranking it deserves.
Most people would not really be aware of all that lays behind a search result, and this is probably where the bot and algorithms should remain for the time being: in the shadows, behind the scenes, making things more efficient and keeping them ticking over.
Despite this Ex Machina campaign generating a lot of heated discussion on various comments sections (which is never a bad thing), it seems that the bot does not really have enough integrity to take centre stage in a successful marketing campaign for the time being.