What if an artificially intelligent Homer Simpson could contact you on Facebook Messenger to encourage you to buy Duff Beer? Or if Jon Snow could send you an emoji to remind you to watch the latest “Game of Thrones” episode? Miss Piggy might even use Messenger to tell your kid about a new “Muppets” film release.
This is less far-out than it sounds. Facebook has given some developers a software kit that allows them to build chat bots native to Messenger for shopping, ticket-booking, and more. While some developers will use this to create functional bots without personality, Imperson — a tech startup from Israel — is already using AI technology to recreate famous, fictional characters from movies or TV series, which are used in marketing campaigns over Messenger.
This type of innovation could have a huge impact on Facebook’s ability to generate revenue from Messenger. Chat bots could encourage more developers to work with Messenger, creating the types of experiences that make users stay on the Facebook platform for longer. That’s not all. There is even the potential for a revenue-share. Facebook could take a slice every time a movie ticket is purchased through a chat bot on Messenger, for example. Or, a company like Disney could pay Facebook to run a marketing campaign using AI chat bot versions of their most popular characters.
Disney would not reveal the details of its deal with Facebook to get an AI chat bot on Messenger. But I spoke to Miss Piggy on Wednesday evening. She kept telling me about her online dating profile. Then she got offended when I admitted I had not seen her TV show and left.
Eyal Pfeifel, who jointly founded Imperson in 2014, told Business Insider: “The experience the user is getting feels like an actual conversation with a person from the movie. We work very closely with the character writers. We then embed these responses into our AI.”
The bots are able to sustain conversations up to about a half-hour long, speaking with the voice and style of the fictional character. They are only online at certain times in the day, in between show commitments, to add to the authenticity.
Miss Piggy is Imperson’s third Facebook Messenger character, but it’s the first time the company has worked with Disney. Previously, Imperson brought Doc Brown into life for a campaign to mark Back to the Future Day. Before this, Imperson created Laura Barns, a character who commits suicide in the Horror movie “Unfriended.”
As you can see from the screenshot above, Laura Barns was no charming saleswoman. Pfeifel described interactions with his AI creations as a “casual experience, not geared towards any particular goal.” However, the Imperson co-founder admitted that two weeks before the movie release of “Unfriended,” Laura Barns did push her chat partners to buy tickets. She even contacted those she had previously spoken to, out of the blue, three months later to tell them that the DVD had been released. First, contact must be initiated by the fan, but after this point the AI bot has licence to contact you at any point after.
The marketing benefits of this are clear. Rather than directly hawking products, AI bots can be most successfully used to build brand engagement with customers, occasionally notifying them of products. If they attempt to do more, they run the risk of coming across as spam.
If your thinking of IM as a advertising play you’re entirely missing the point. It’s a marketing play.We made the same mistake with mobile.
— Tom Goodwin (@tomfgoodwin) January 7, 2016
Pfeifel said, “We are initially addressing marketing and promotion. We are able to generate a kind of engagement that other areas of marketing can’t reach. This is a unique kind of experience that is very valuable.”
Disney, which worked with Imperson to create Miss Piggy was very pleased with the results.
Debbie McClellan,vice president of The Muppets Studio, told Business Insider: “It’s such a special moment for people to meet Miss Piggy. It’s pretty amazing. Miss Piggy will always want to promote her own show and everything she does. She loves herself. But we look at the Muppets as celebrities; they are not trying to endorse specific things.”
McClennan added: “We haven’t yet decided whether to carry it on, but Kermit is the next logical step.”
Last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the plan to earn money from Messenger requires a similar strategy to the one was used to generate income from the Newsfeed.
However, direct advertising through Messenger would be much more invasive. The instant messaging service is seen as a private space by most users: somewhere for you to have a conversation you actually want and enjoy. This is where innovations like AI movie characters can fit in, being as much a new form of entertainment as they are a form of marketing and promotion.
Of course, this is just one element of how Facebook will be able to drive revenue from Messenger. In China, mobile messaging apps like WeChat are used as all-in-one service providers, that allow you to shop, consume news media and to conduct mobile payments. Facebook will look to replicate this type of practical service in the US and beyond using AI bots, but innovations like bringing fictional characters to life are also a part of Messenger’s future.
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