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The Superbowl commercials have become as interesting as the game for many of us at this stage, perhaps even more so for some. As a social litmus test, they offer a singular view of where we are as a society through the lens of the brands and businesses trying to reach us.

While the Patriots walked away as champions and Maroon 5 entertained during half-time (featuring more pyrotechnics than a NASA space launch, cartoons by SpongeBob, guest wrapper Big Boi wearing my granny’s fur coat (he must’ve been very cold poor thing) and a gospel choir for good measure), the most interesting this year for me was the penetration of AI in the narrative of the commercials.

So many of the Superbowl commercials had an AI theme this year which simply brings us to the pace of adoption consumer conversation. It started with SimplySafe’s commercial using the fear of robots stealing jobs and ever-listening home assistants.

Then it was Turbotax, again using robotics as the centre storyline for their commercial about their own prioritisation of humans over chatbots. Then we had a beautiful commercial from Google Translate, always a pioneer when it comes to natural language processing and intelligent environment scanning. Sprint used robots as their commercial hook (it was weak, trust me). Pringles returned to the home assistant theme with their ‘Sad Alexa’ who couldn’t eat pringles and Amazon poked fun at their own Alexa.

There were bound to be more AI based commercials, I didn’t watch all 53 (I was busy dancing to Maroon 5 around my living room) but the thread (or copper wire) of AI running through the commercial commentary was unmissable. AI has arrived.

Part I of this blog posted 2 weeks ago focused on robotics and posed the question about consumer value versus cost saving automation. In Part II (The Revenge!) I want to focus on consumer adoption, after all that holds the key to the success of any technology. Just ask the 3D or Curved TV.

Is Artificial Intelligence the End of the World?

Fear around what AI is up to is the most common question I am asked at events. Will the robots take over? Is Elon Musk right (famously warning us that the emergence of AI super-intelligence may result in an ‘immortal dictator’)? Do consumers really trust Artificial Intelligence? I’ll be honest, the fear of AI is largely whipped up by commentators or the media (social or traditional) more than the average user or consumer.

Trust is an interesting concept, the idea of placing your confidence or faith in something external, or someone. If that trust is upheld then you are content, if it is not, you’re disappointed. The problem is that trust is a bit like an eraser… it gets smaller and smaller with every mistake. Which brings us to the question, which do you trust more… yourself, your friends/partner or the machine? The reality is that the machine is probably less likely to let you down someday.

The trust question holds the key to unlocking large scale adoption of Artificial Intelligence by the average consumer. It is generally not a conscious suspicion but sometimes more a blissful ignorance that holds us back. For most it is the ignorance that we have already handed over this trust to the algorithms, we’ve just done it without noticing.

Algorithms are Running Your Life

Already, Facebook suggests who you should be friends with and to what events you should go to in your community this week. LinkedIn tells you where to work, Netflix what to watch tonight, Amazon what you should buy, Tinder who you should love, TripAdvisor where you should go, AirBnB where you should stay. The algorithms are already in control of a lot more of your behaviours than you might think, nudging and guiding. You already trust the ‘machine’, you perhaps just haven’t realised it yet. Your behaviours are already being guided, suggested and thus altered by the ‘machine’.

While robotics and automation are often the sexy side of AI, I think a big part of the consumer facing AI puzzle will be unlocked by the Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing (NLP) achievements over the past number of years. As humans we value natural interactions, and while humanoid robotic developments are impressive, natural language interaction holds the key to mainstream adoption of man-to-machine in our everyday lives.

Not Another 5 Minute Voice Note!

Over the past 10 years, no cyber behaviouralist could deny the swing, driven by the smart phone, away from voice to text & visual driven cultures. Text speak, emoticons, memes and snapchat streaks have replaced phone calls and real-world conversations. Apps like WhatsApp, WeChat and Messenger have replaced the catch-up phone call. But in the last 12 months, something interesting has happened. Using that little on-screen microphone icon has made its way in to most people’s daily lives.

It started a few years ago with ‘Ask Siri’ or ‘Ok Google’. Voice search became something the early adopters embraced. But since messaging apps launched voice-notes, the behaviour has entered mainstream use. Today you will see hundreds of thousands of us walking the streets holding our phones, not to our ears but just talking into one end, for minutes at a time, or listening to voice notes catching up. It’s a one-way conversation.

Yes. we always had voicemail, but this is different. This isn’t a message left, something of import, retrieved by dialling 171. This is an on-going conversation, more akin to the ‘over and out’ walkie-talkies my next-door neighbour friend Peter and I stashed under our beds aged 10. Natural Language is again working its way back up the communication ladder against text. Over 2 Billion minutes of video and voice messages are sent every day just on WhatsApp, a figure catalysed by the removal of the ‘press and hold’ requirement to send a voice note.  The ‘press and swipe’ to record made it easier and that simple software change significantly altered human communication.

Natural Language Processing is a Step-Change

So why am I banging on about voice messaging? It’s because we are ready. And it turns out so too are the machines. The QWERTY keyboard has been the dominant interface for decades now, and while the humble mouse and Windows Tiles altered things in the past, natural voice interaction holds the key to everyday man-meets-machine.

Anyone who witnessed Google Duplex (the technology behind nuanced conversation) during the release of the Google Assistant last year at the I/O 2018 realised things were about to shift. When we are conversing with a machine but don’t even know it, AI just went up a gear. And when that machine talks back to us and we mistake it for a human, then things just get exciting.


As the Natural Language Processing becomes smarter and more intuitive, we are going to see the AI adoption step-change. Indeed, we are likely to see the line between human and machine blur even further. Speech is the most natural thing in the world. As humans, we are able to better build trust when we can hear someone’s voice. The algorithms are about to develop a natural conversational style and with that, likely comes additional consumer trust and expectations.

 Are You AI Ready?

So, what does any of this mean for brands and businesses? Well it means that AI is not coming. It means that it is already here. Just watch the Superbowl commercials again. The question is, does your business have an AI strategy?

We have had Business to Consumer (B2C) and Business to Business (B2B) strategies for years. But is your business Business-to-Machine (B2M) ready? Are you ready for consumers to hand over their decision making to their Virtual Assistants?

Take a really simple example, like toilet tissue. You might have a product preference, say quilted. I mean who doesn’t like a nice quilted tissue? But which brand it is, you might not really care. Brand A, or B or store own brand. As long as it is quilted you are happy. So, one day, you set your Assistant to always re-order quilted toilet tissue, 12 rolls a fortnight, at the best price/offer. The system will scan away, always delivering your 12-rolls of quality quilted toilet tissue. The brands will differ depending on the pricing or offers that week. But you will always get the best deal. Your Assistant will see to that. And on it will go, forever. Where once there was a consumer we could influence with an advertising campaign, a piece of in-store point-of-sale or an experiential marketing campaign, there now just stands an algorithm. All we have is price to attract the attention of the machine and that is a race to the bottom, pun very much intended.

What Will We Be Without Consumer Decisions?

When consumers step out of the decision making and trust AI, what does that mean for those in marketing, neuro-marketing, behavioural economics and consumer psychology? We have developed strategies that require human interaction at some point, that delicious irrational human mind to be bent and persuaded. Algorithms aren’t fooled as easily. What lies ahead for the discipline of consumer behaviour when there is no consumer involved in the decision making?

Even higher involvement purchases may fall. I’m returning to the same ski resort this year. It is very easy for my Assistant to predict my needs next year in terms of ski holiday, resort type and offer me flights, accommodation and event solutions before I even have to research it myself. If it gets it right once, then I hand over another little part of me to the system. The trust gets deeper.

But someday will there be a revolt? Will we as consumers begin that revolution or will it be the machines? Will the robots take over? This video has the answer.



Ken Hughes launches his new keynote ‘The AI Consumer: Marketing to the Machine’ in 2019, looking at the likely impact AI will have on society, consumerism and what brands and businesses need to do in preparation for a Business-to-Machine (B2M) world. Click here to get details on this new keynote.

Ken Hughes is now widely recognized as one of the world’s leading Consumer and Shopper Behaviouralists, blending his significant expertise in new consumer values, cyber psychology, digital realities and societal change to help brands and businesses navigate the latest consumerist challenges and to survive & thrive. Click here to read more.


A blog to  inspire and delight

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A blog to  inspire and delight