Weather Company Incorporates IBM's Watson Into New Ad Product

Bets Artificial Intelligence Will Change Advertising

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The Weather Company is placing a bet on artificial intelligence. In its first major announcement since being acquired by IBM in January, Weather Company is introducing Watson Ads, which will allow consumers to ask questions via voice and text to receive information on products or brands.

While there's no dearth of data available for marketers to make informed decisions about their customers and provide more relevant messaging and experiences, Watson's ability to understand natural language, reason and learn over time may allow for greater understanding of how consumers interact with brands and their perception of products.

"We believe cognition is going to transform advertising," said Jeremy Steinberg, global head of sales, Weather Company, predicting cognitive advertising will be a multibillion dollar business.

Unilever will be one of the first advertisers to utilize Watson Ads for its Hellmanns and Country Crock brands. With Watson, consumers can ask their phone or computer for recipe ideas based on specific ingredients.

Typically, a search for a recipe with a specific three or four ingredients will return a finite number of recipes, said Adam Gerhart, U.S. CEO, Mindshare, Unilever's media agency of record. But Watson can sort through ingredient and flavor profiles and actually create recipes on the fly from ingredients like chili and Hellmanns.

Watson Ads will incorporate weather data from Weather Company -- everything from temperature to pollen index -- and can make recommendations based on weather, time of day and location.

Campbell Soup and GSK Consumer Healthcare will also utilize Watson Ads at launch.

The Watson ad looks like a typical digital or mobile ad but within the ad there is a box to "ask Watson." You can then type or ask a question.

Watson Ads will run across Weather's web and mobile properties to start, but Mr. Steinberg said he expects it to expand to other channels like out-of-home, TV and social advertising.

"The big thing more than anything else is Watson is going to help humanize the advertising experience," Mr. Steinberg said. "It allows consumers to have a one-to-one relationship with brands like never before."

For marketers, Watson Ads is expected to not only improve the customer experience and engagement, but also help provide insights into how consumers interact with brands, better understand perception and inform product development.

"We are entering an era of simulated human intelligence where we are able to synthesize actual human brain thinking and function. This will allow for deeper conversations between brands and consumers," Mr. Gerhart said.

Watson's ability to understand tone, double meaning and intent of a question, provides insight to a marketer that can't be deduced through normal search, he added. It can also inform who your future consumer is and real-time segmentation of consumers.

"Watson will act like a large-scale focus group," that could ultimately lead to anything from new target audiences to a new product development tailored to specific audience segements, he said.

There's been some buzz around the potential of utilizing artificial intelligence in advertising, but it's in the very early stages.

IBM partnered with Havas Group last month to launch Havas Cognitive, which uses the cognitive computing power of Watson to help brands develop marketing campaigns and products utilizing Watson's artificial intelligence.

To push things forward, Weather Company is also creating the Watson Ads Council, working with a team of marketers who will act as a sounding board for innovations leveraging Watson Ads and cognitive advancements in advertising.

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