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article imageOp-Ed: Ads you can talk to? IBM’s Watson vs online marketing

By Paul Wallis     Jun 3, 2016 in Technology
Sydney - If you, like the rest of the human race, are less than thrilled with online ads, and even less impressed with their targeting, things may be about to change. IBM's cognitive system Watson is about to "humanize" online advertising.
The theory here is that if you don’t want to click on ads, you might want to talk to them. Hence, talking ads. The new IBM Watson idea is being trialed by Weather Co. as a global first. You can ask about products, or whatever.
This idea starts getting a bit stickier, however, with the idea that you can ask about whether a medication is suitable. The possibilities of a serious liability arising are obvious, but imagine the conversation:
Human: Is this medication OK for my son/daughter?
Ad: Sure, it is.
Human: It won’t cause them to turn in to monsters, or have allergic reactions?
Ad: Of course not.
This version of talking to an ad is a send-up, but only to a point — Weather Co. has signed up with GlaxoSmithKline, purveyors of fine medicines and sometimes respondents in fine legal actions. These guys do know what legal liabilities are all about, particularly in advertising medications. Let's hope it works.
The good side of talking ads?
Obvious issues aside, the advertising industry really should be paying attention to the “humanizing” factor. The bizarre state of Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising, on which so many revenue models depend, is appalling. The oversupply of irrelevant ads based on a search or other indirect information is reaching a point of total counter-productivity.
Talking ads, ironically, may actually lead to relevant ads. Simply not clicking on things doesn’t really provide a lot of information. Ad Choices, bless its underrated little multiple choices, allows some feedback, but not enough, and not consistently enough. Talking ads, with a bit of work, could lead to much better selection of useful ads.
A slight digression — I work in advertising. I was born in an advertising agency. I was learning basic ad-think since the age I was able to talk. Even the idea of vast amounts of expensive, useless advertising is an anathema. I know what I’m looking at, and why I’m looking at it, online.
For example — I saw an ad for one of my own books on The New York Times. I didn’t put it there. Amazon didn’t put it there. The pixies didn’t put it there. Advertising software put it there, presumably in the belief that I’d buy my own book.
If you’re getting the impression that the vast enigmatic scientific intellects of modern advertising are one fruitcake short of a Christmas, bingo. Talking ads could not possibly be any less effective than the current global slopfest.
Consider, pleasantly sharpened and no doubt highly polished reader, the following dialog:
Me: For why you put ad for my book on The New York Times?
Ad: To endear ourselves to you.
Me: How would you say you’re doing with that theory?
Ad: Really good?
Me: No.
Ad: Oh.
Much as I would like to have a New York Times best seller, with the sort of money which would allow me to indulge myself in nauseating excesses and depravities for decades, I don’t have one right now. Nor is sending me ads for my own books likely to change that situation much.
Strangely, this situation applies to other people, too. The above conversation could apply some added leverage for advertisers to discuss why they’re making a dog’s breakfast of online advertising in so many ways.
Better still — IBM’s Watson is a computer which learns things, unlike the advertising industry. It’s even learning to play and write emotional music, unlike the music industry, and how to write code that works, unlike the IT industry. (Watson isn’t just a supercomputer – It’s a whole new approach to practical computing and programming.)
This idea, even in its embryonic yet-to-have-all-the-obvious-issues stage, is already looking better than current online advertising.
Kill not the talking ad when it approacheth your online encampment.
Let it speak its words of no doubt fascinating 1990s copy schtick and see-eth what it hath to sayeth.
Foam ye at the mouth less extravagantly/genocidally when it doth flog stuff unto ye.
Inquire ye closely whether it doth know such poop as thou may need to ask about.
...Let's just take it from there, eh?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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