Spokesbots Start Connecting with Consumers

December 13, 2014


In past posts, we’ve taken a look at the rise of mobile ads and how they were starting to beat out older forms of media for marketing dollars. Despite this growing dominance, however, the overall effectiveness of mobile ads remains suspect. For many they’re little more than a nuisance, something along the margins of the screen that can be easily ignored. Others see them as an intrusion on their privacy given the way that many mobile ads target certain users.

For marketers, though, that ability to reach out to specific consumers is the main appeal of mobile advertising’s future. In fact, the mobile chat app Kik is taking the concept one step further by giving brands the opportunity to hold conversations directly with consumers. The idea hinges on the use of “chatbots,” computer programs designed to communicate with humans via text. These artificial conversation partners were first created at MIT in the 1960s and have had a presence on the Internet since the 1990s. Kik, a service similar to Facebook Chat or WhatsApp, started employing their own bots a few months ago to tell users jokes or push other content on them. Though they’re relatively primitive speakers now, Kik hopes the bots will soon be able to hold conversations that will at least be meaningful to advertisers.

If marketers aren’t yet convinced of the power of chatbots, they’re at least anxious to establish a connection with Kik’s young userbase. The company estimates that 4 in 10 American teens are active on the app. While many of these users are distrustful of traditional mobile banner ads, there’s a chance they could be willing to chat directly with a marketing representative, robot or not. Kik intends to develop its chatbots by using employees to talk with users about a specific product or company. After they’ve spoken with 50 or so people, Kik will use those chatlogs to develop a program that can hold a conversation about the product or company in question. While the concept is certainly a long shot, many marketers are willing to try anything to grab the attention of today’s increasingly fickle teens.



  1. Does Kik have a chance of succeeding with teen consumers?
  1. Could chatbots also be useful in reaching older consumers?


Source: Christopher Mims, “Advertising’s New Frontier: Talk to the Bot,” The Wall Street Journal, July 27, 2014. Photo by: Peter Nowalk.