How Campbell’s And Other CPG Brands Are Experimenting With Watson Ads

The IBM-Owned Weather Company's voice-activated Watson Ads represents true 'conversational marketing,' says TWC's Domenic Venuto.

Last summer, Campbell Soup Company, Unilever, and GSK Consumer Healthcare respectively began their first foray into marketing that promises to understand and respond intelligently to consumers’ voice-activated queries: Watson Ads.

The ad format came about four months after IBM’s acquisition of The Weather Company (the data/analytics side of that entity, not to be conflated with the cable TV and consumer-facing website and apps of The Weather Channel, as those two brands now operate separately).

The idea was to put the capabilities of both entities to the test: on one side, IBM’s artificial intelligence/machine learning program, Watson; and on the other, The Weather Company’s access to first party location data that would enable the accurate timing and placement of ads.

In the intervening months, other speech-enabled interactive platforms like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant have been gaining acceptance. So we touched base with Domenic Venuto, GM, Consumer Division, for The Weather Company, about how the next phase of Watson Ads were shaping up.

GeoMarketing: What are the main benefits of using Watson Ads?

Domenic VenutoWatson Ads is an industry-first solution that learns and interacts with consumers through advertising. For the first time ever, consumers can interact directly with brands by having a personalized two-way conversation within an ad experience. This offering leverages IBM Watson’s natural language and conversation capabilities to help consumers prepare a new meal, find their dream car…or even relieve allergy symptoms.

For marketers, Watson Ads are beneficial because it can act as a massive focus group by uncovering actionable consumer and product insights previously unavailable in traditional campaigns. With each interaction, the Watson Ads get smarter and it helps brands understand consumers like never before because they are finally able to listen to what their consumers are thinking and looking for. These insights can then be used to inform future creative, product, and messaging strategies and deepen relationships with their audience.

How are Watson Ads best approached by a brand like Campbell’s?

In the consumer packaged goods category, Watson Ads leverages Chef Watson to spark home cooking creativity by creating brand new recipes on the fly — a combination of consumer’s ingredient input and Chef Watson’s deep knowledge of the cooking domain.
In categories like personal care and automotive, Watson Ads leverage Watson’s conversation capabilities to address consumer questions, learn more about products, and ultimately help them make better decisions about the products.

Is the use of Watson Ads by brands such as Campbell’s viewed as experimental?

This is the first use of IBM Watson in advertising. So yes, in a sense, Watson Ads are experimental because it’s a brand new advertising format and an industry-first. But cognitive advertising is here to stay, so the learnings we get in these first implementations will improve future iterations. It’s an exciting beginning.

In other words, is it mainly a good way to understand and get acquainted with an advanced technology for future marketing purposes? Or does it provide meaningful ROI and sales generation right now?

It is both. Brands are able to finally have that one-on-one conversation with consumers at scale, which is enabled for the first time through Watson Ads.
But it’s not just about targeting consumers and delivering the right message at the right place and time — through Watson Ads, brands are able to really listen and understand what their consumers are looking for. Watson Ads can provide those meaningful insights, which brands can use to inform future product development, brand strategy and deepen brand affinity with consumers.

What are the ways Campbell’s and The Weather Company view the rise of voice search and artificial intelligence within marketing plans?

I can’t speak on behalf of Campbell’s but as part of IBM, we refer to AI as Augmented Intelligence. We want to help enhance and extend human capability, expertise and potential.

Specifically around AI and the advertising and marketing industry, we know that when brands talk with customers—and not just at them—consumers stay engaged for longer periods of time. And, since Watson Ads interactions are driven by the consumer, these personalized experiences can create meaningful connections with the brand that may ultimately lead to higher product sales.

As cognitive advertising evolves, it’s our hope that Watson Ads will inspire industry innovations, and present new and valuable ways to connect with consumers.

Does this kind of technology change or influence other forms of online and offline advertising (do Watson Ads amplify other ads from display to TV? Or do those other placements amplify Watson Ads? Or is it a bit of both)?

Watson Ads can certainly influence other forms of advertising and even overall strategy and consumer touchpoints. This is due to the two-way conversation within the ad, which is enabled by IBM Watson.

By being able to talk “with” consumers instead of just “at” them through the ad, brands are able to gain insights into a consumer’s intent and mindset like never before. Then the brand can use those insights to help augment their overall advertising strategies.

Does it change the approach to creating ads and placing/targeting ads? How?

Yes, due to the insights marketers can gain from Watson Ads essentially acting as a massive focus group, it can help take ad creative, strategy, and targeting to the next level.

What are your plans for Watson Ads this year? How do you plan to build on the capabilities?

Currently, we have Watson Ads experiences rolled out in the CPG, Food, and Consumer Healthcare categories.

In 2017, we will expand into the auto category and we are in conversations with major retailers and financial service providers. For each new category, the Watson Ads experience will be new and unique. We will also allow our clients to leverage Watson Ads off-property as well.


About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.