#56 When bots take over – advertising dies (or won’t it?)

I’m currently working on a project that involves intelligent chatbots (together with half the population of digital marketeers if I may believe my social feeds). This project gives me a lot of energy. First of all because I love working with new technology – especially when I believe it has something to do with the future of marketing. Second because I’m not a programmer (far from it!) but I get the chance to work with some of the most talented students of the Worlds Smartest Region. And finally because I still believe I can teach them a thing or two about branding, communication and marketing. It makes me feel vital 🙂

So while they were deciding wether to go with Wit.ai or Api.ai I thought I’d write this blogpost about the withdrawel of advertising and the devaluation of human decision making. Will people leave decision making up to artificial intelligence in the future? Like the way they trust selfdriving cars? And if so…can we trust the system not to be hacked?

Here’s my simplified patern of thougts….bare with me, I’m curious to hear your opinion!


It’s a fact that people are sick of advertising. Wether it’s on TV, on Spotify or online newsmedia – if people can opt-out of advertising they will! The old romatic days when advertising was still fun for agencies, clients and consumers are long gone….

A good old TV commercial when advertising was still fun.

Instead what you see happening now is a patern of de-advertising; decision making based on advertising (mass messaging) is traded for decision making based on (subliminal) ‘triggers’ (micro messaging) and eventually completely left to technology.


Currently agencies and clients are moving away from push advertising to content marketing or branded content. Content marketing is advertising in disguise; you create content that seems (or in the best case; is) interesting for a target audience and then you incorporate your brand message directly or indirecly in the content. I’m in the business of content marketing and it’s cool! It’s better then the alternative as far as I’m concerned. But it often feels as a bit of a decoy, we have all fallen victim to the infamous clickbaits right?


But that’s not the biggest problem of content marketing. The biggest problem is the fact that contentmarketing ads more content and information to an already overcrowded digital world. Every advertiser is calling for the same (scarce) human attention, but something has got to give.

Stretching time to maximum overdrive

We are living in an age of information overload and overdose. Platforms like Facebook and Google are are using unbelievebly strong technological triggers that keep tempting us back into our devices and on these platforms for a longer period of time.  That’s what’s called Captology (computer as persuasive tech). Interesting stuff…but it’s moving towards the edges of what is morally acceptable.

Is she..or is she not?

I can’t count the times I was trying to use Facebook ‘professionally’ and ended up watching silly catmovies or a blogpost about the 10 reasons why Hillary Clinton is actually an alien lifeform. The fact is – for every minute we spend in the Facebook eco-system they are making money.


So they are trying to strecht time and stetch our attention as far as possible so they can serve us branded content as much as possible. But people are getting closer and closer to the limit of what is physiological possible to take in. I wrote about this last time. This week Kantar TNS research showed consumers are more and more actively ignoring advertising and content. It’s hardly suprising is it?

Consumers are turning their back on brands as 26% of respondents ‘actively ignore’ social posts or content, despite soaring usage of popular social media platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram.

Scepticism is highest in Scandinavian countries with 57% of respondents in both Sweden and Denmark stating they actively ignore content from brands. At the other end of the scale, just 15% of those in Saudi Arabia and 19% of Brazilians would avoid branded content. China and South Africa sit closer to the global average with 24% and 26% of respondents expressing cynicism, respectively.

So instead of the internet making it easier for consumers, decision making and information processing is actually becoming harder. Ads and content maybe more relevant – but there is so much of it going round that even relevance is losing it’s advantage.

As a result consumers move to websites and platforms that aggregate information based on peer-reviews and social proof to make it all easier. But of course these platforms don’t have romantic or altruistic motives either – they make money from every decision made through their platforms.

And that’s where digital marketing and advertising dives under the radar. They make us believe we have made our own decision – but actually we did not really. In a very advanced  way  websites and platforms like Booking.com use behavioural psychology principles and big data to test, predict and trigger consumers into certain behaviour. They don’t use screaming ads or content marketing, but subtle persuasive triggers.

A huge amount of persuasive triggers that infuence decision making

The Homo Sapiens of advertising

Anyway where do the bots come in? Well, the way I see it – if ‘old’ advertising is a Monkey, content marketing is the Homo Erectus and Captology is the Neanderthal…. so you may wonder what is next – what’s going to be the Homo Sapiens of Advertising?

Branding and advertising are becoming less and less visible in the public domain and seem to be going undercover. Perhaps future marketing is going to be even less visible than content marketing and subliminal technological triggers. And perhaps it doesn’t have to be visible because we don’t need to make decisions ourselves – we can let the data do it for us.

I read this great Financial Times article (via Emerce) written by the Israelian History professor Yuval Noah Harari who describes a future where data will influence consumer behaviour beyond free will. Instinct is merely the sum of biochemical algoritms – he states – and where humans have a lot of trouble optimizing these algoritms – a computer can do it on the fly.


Google won’t have to be perfect. It won’t have to be correct all the time. It will just have to be better on average than me

It’s a great philosophical article, well worth the (long) read.

(c) Janne Livonen

When the bots take over – advertising dies (or won’t it?)

So..there we are…the bots. The current manifestation of these virtual decision makers are a kind of basic chat- or messengerbots.They talk to you and you can talk back and they help you select a certain product or service. They give you limited options (based on a decision making tree), their language skills are quite poor and their machine learning capabilities are slow.

But in a few years we can expect to be able to create Artifilcial Intellegent Chatbots on Steriods.Virtual Private Assistants (VPA) that can (and will) decide for us based on data provided by our own behaviour. And I that hits reality – the impact on marketing and advertising will be huge.

I see two human related elements that will make or break this development. First a human like dialogue and second the absence of human influence.

A human like dialogue

People connect to ‘living’ creatures faster and easier than they do to ‘dead’ objects. And kitt2000this emotional connection is important to create a feeling of trust.

The ‘good old’ Turing Test is as fresh as it ever was.

Mimicing a real conversation by adapting the language during the dialogue (from slang to casual to formal), remembering previous dialogues and interpretating language styles in the right way will make the adoption of Messenger bots and VPA’s go much much faster.

Some of us may remember Knight Riders’ Kitt and the way you felt when Kitt was molested by one of Michael Knight’s enemies. You actually felt sorry for a car!!! Just as people have sympathy for these robots being kicked and bullied by Google Owned Boston Dynamics.

‘Perhaps a bit mean’…really? It’s a robot!

Ordering toilet paper

So..in the future when I need some new toilet paper – I’ll ask my VPA to order some – most likely she (I like to think of her a she) already knows. But my VPA is not influenced by marketing. She just looks at data about the best rated, best priced and most environmental friendly produced toilet paper – she knows I like soft clean paper, but alse want to save the rainforrest – and orders the stuff.

What’s the use of advertising and marketing in a data-driven-decision-making world? None. It would completely disappear! And the only purpuse brands would have is to create the best possible products for the best possible price because that would be the only way to seduce the bots! That would be awesome!

In the end the bots will decide what’s good for us. Bots can’t be tricked by marketing – they can’t be deceived with manipulative information….or can they?

The absence of human influence

snorkelsAt this point I got into a conversation with my highly regarded end-boss (I do have one) Marijn. He told me this story of The Snorks. The Snorks are famous cartoon figures in the Benelux (and France?). They are a friendly bunch of underwater creatures…living happily under the sea never ever seen by any human being apart of this Captain Ortega dude.

Anyway – he told me – that the biggest treat to The Snorks were Snorks Eaters; vicious piranha-like fishes that hunt down and eat The Snorks for breakfast. He used this example as a metaphore for the bots eating advertising.

But than he said he didn’t believe this was ever going to happen because – first of all – the Snorks Eaters hardly ever succeeded to catch a Snork (I didn’t think that was a good argument) and secondly…the Snorks Eaters had an enemy too! The Snorks Eater-Eaters!!

A Snork Eater-Eater in  Persuit of Snork Eaters

So what if the bots can be influenced by über-bots created by advertisers and marketeers messing up the data driven decision making? Or are Google and Facebook themselves not the Snorks Eater-Eaters that are going to decide what data the VPA’s use to make their decisions?

In that case – if they can’t trust the data to be objective – consumers will be very hesitant to leave decision making up to a bot. Instead, they will most likely trust their good old reptile brain better. Too bad. I just hope humans can keep their hands of the data for as long as possible so we can discover what advanced VPA’s can do for us. If life is better without advertising.

In the series…The Snorks live happily ever after. That would mean advertising will prevail. But hey…Snorks are just fantasy right!…although some people say that the story of Captain Ortega may just be true…..


Eén reactie op “#56 When bots take over – advertising dies (or won’t it?)”

  1. […] merk kiezen en niet dat van een concurrent of van de middlemen zelf. Vorig jaar schreef ik er in deze blogpost over. Over Snorkel-eters en […]


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