Can IBM’s Watson Save Advertising?

One of the best new ideas for improving advertising has come from an unusual source: IBM. You may remember that IBM bought The Weather Company, and that the company has bet the farm on Watson, its cognitive computing platform. Watson, of course, is without value unless killer applications are found for its powers. It is already being used in the obvious ways, to predict air quality in places like Beijing and New Delhi and inform drivers when to turn on air filtering systems. It is also being used in health care for research. Now IBM has announced that it will also put Watson to work to change the way ads are targeted and served. This is exactly what is needed to stop the constant downloading of ad blockers.

Here’s how AdExchanger covers the plans:

IBM just rolled out interactive Watson Ads, which use cognitive supercomputing to turn consumer text and voice requests into dynamic ads. If you’re Campbell Soup, people looking up recipes could be targeted with an ad asking which ingredients they have on hand, and then the ad would respond with an idea. Unilever and GSK Consumer Healthcare are other early testers and GroupM agencies Mindshare and MEC “drove strategy and discussions,” per the release. Although the ads are available only on Weather Co. properties, once Watson Ads are out of a controlled beta they could be scaled more programmatically, Jeremy Steinberg, Weather’s global head of sales, told AdExchanger. “The goal is to help marketers better understand consumer relationships and intent,” he said. “They will have a practical application across all advertising, not just on Weather.”

Notice how this test, now just in beta, combines several timely and relevant trends in mobile computing: the use of voice requests, the need for timely information, and the preference of consumers for “right place, right time” rather than simple product advertising.

If these ads can really scale programmatically — and with Watson’s cognitive computing (deep learning) powers that should be possible — we could get much closer to the dream of transforming advertising into a “less is more,” precisely targeted, high ROI activity that consumers will not mind. We like especially the idea of an interactive conversation rather than a pushed message, resulting in useful information (a recipe) rather than a vague call to action.

We’ve been calling for better targeting for a long time now, and we’ve eliminated from our own supply chain publishers who clutter their pages with ads that aren’t even viewable or game the system with fraudulent sites. If this new method of targeting works, it will further guarantee the integrity of digital ads.