CoverGirl has released what it claims is the first influencer chatbot marketing campaign, using a program designed to emulate a real person's conversational style.
The make-up brand, which was spun off to Coty from Procter & Gamble in October, invited fans to use the teen-focused messaging app Kik to interact with a chatbot version of Kalani Hilliker, a 16-year-old American dancer, model and TV personality.
The chatbot was created by influencer marketing platform The Amplify and chatbot developer Automat, companies that became part of the 18-month-old network You & Mr Jones in mid-2016.
"Mobile commerce will be colossal using bots," said David Jones, former Havas global CEO and founder of You & Mr Jones. "In 12 months there will be thousands of these. Traditional ads can cost thousands per click -- this is a conversation on Kik."
Results so far include 14 times more conversations with the chatbot than with an average post by Ms. Hilliker, 91% positive sentiment, an average of 17 messages per conversation, 48% of conversations leading to coupon delivery and 51% click-through on coupons delivered, according to Mr. Jones.
KalaniBot analyzed and then simulated the influencer's conversational style across all her social media accounts to define its persona, but has not tried to fool fans that it is the real person.
Ms. Hilliker, who has 3.3 million followers on Instagram (which was used to push the Kik campaign) introduces her bot and says, "She thinks she's *actually* me lol."
CoverGirl's campaign is still underway, and KalaniBot gets smarter with use as she learns new fan interactions, according to its creators. Gifs, emojis and pieces of content are popular, for example. A quiz format also works well, as "conversation" flows when followers are asked questions like, "Which of these is most true for you?" and are then offered a choice of responses.
The emphasis is mostly on practical topics, sharing product information and providing access to deals. If it can't understand a message, it says, "Hmmm, I didn't get that. Kalani's taught me a few things, but I'm still learning."
Justin Rezvani, founder and CEO of The Amplify, said the company will be able to create credible bots for more sophisticated influencers that go way beyond make-up as a topic. "The whole point is that what we are doing is not a scripted experience," he said. "It's a whole platform that allows us to build bots and develop a meaningful dialog around products."
The bot's detailed analytics deliver feedback on engagement levels, providing reporting metrics across average conversation length; sentiment analysis; semantic analysis; branded messages; bot mentions; response rate; and purchase links.
"Bots represent an opportunity for the industry to close the conversion loop by tracking clicks to purchases," Mr. Rezvani said. "This means more transparency and accountability for how well your strategies and content perform."
"CoverGirl believes beauty should be approachable and accessible to all," said Ukonwa Ojo, senior VP at CoverGirl, in a statement. "So we're excited to tap the power of bot technology to have more personal and dynamic conversations and interaction with fellow beauty enthusiasts about trends, how-tos and our diverse portfolio of products."
In the U.S., brands are in the early stages of figuring out how to use chatbots, computer programs that simulate conversations.
Mr. Jones left Havas, where he was global CEO, in early 2014 after a 15-year career at Havas that began in Australia. He started New York-based You & Mr Jones to develop brands through technology. Another company in the network, Niantic, created Pokemon Go this year.