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Companies spend a good chunk of change on advertising. In fact, according to Gartner, marketing budgets gobble up about 12 percent of annual revenue (and as much as 18.5 percent in industries like education). But a hair over two-thirds of them — 71 percent — allocate the bulk of their budgets to generic marketing messages. Worse still, only 50 cents of every ad dollar spent makes it to the desired target audience.

To inject campaigns with a bit of personality, IBM recruited the help of artificial intelligence (AI). The Armonk, New York-based company today unveiled three new marketing solutions under its Watson umbrella: IBM Watson Ads Omni, IBM Media Optimizer, and Predictive Audiences.

The announcement coincides with Advertising Week in New York City, which kicked off Monday.

“We live in a world that is increasingly connected, which is contributing to an explosion of data. New customer needs and expectations have forced brands to rethink how they engage with consumers using artificial intelligence (AI),” IBM wrote. “AI promises better campaign analytics, hyper-personalization, predictive audience segments, reallocation of valuable time saved, and more.”


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First up: Watson Ads Omni, an AI-powered interactive ad unit that delivers “hyper-personalization” paired with actionable insights. It’s an extension of IBM’s Watson Ads platform, which launched in 2016 and which was previously exclusive to the Weather Channel app and Starting this week, Watson Ads Omni is available for any brand or ad agency to test drive.

Lego will be the first brand to deploy an AI-powered ad unit during Black Friday. The company has been trained on knowledge of 35 different Lego products, enabling it to respond in contextually relevant ways to potential customers. It’s like a chatbot: It poses a series of questions to users and, based on their responses, guides them to a product lineup that best suits their needs.

“We know that people are looking for guidance in selecting the right gifts for kids during the holidays, so we’re excited to provide a customized approach to gift selection using the new IBM Watson Ads Omni,” said Michael McNally, senior director of brand relations at Lego Systems. “Using the tool, we will provide personalized gift giving solutions while showcasing all that the Lego brand has to offer for children of any age, interest, or building ability, and the reach and relevance that the platform enables make it a compelling opportunity for first movement, especially in the height of toy shopping season.”

Behr Paint, another Watson Ads partner, will tap IBM’s cloud services for natural language processing and sentiment analysis, enabling its advertisements to personalize paint color recommendations based on the emotions a customer’s seeking to evoke.

Personalized ads won’t do much good if no one sees them, of course, which is where IBM Media Optimizer comes in. It’s an AI tool developed in collaboration with independent programmatic company MediaMath that “optimizes the power of … ad dollars,” in IBM’s words — specifically by connecting pre- and post-customer journeys across paid, owned, and earned channels. Intelligent Bidder, one component, calculates a user’s bid probability by analyzing the time, channel, and bid value for a given placement.

Complementing those features is Predictive Audiences, which leverages IBM’s Watson backend and integrations with LiveRamp, an identity resolution provider, to produce “lookalike” models of target consumers. Within LiveRamp, businesses can layer data signals, including weather, location, and first-party customer relationship management (CRM) points of interest to identify those most likely to make a purchase.

“[W]ith the introduction of these new AI-powered solutions,” IBM wrote, “[We continue] to help marketers — a profession increasingly reliant on technology — use AI to change the way they work, build better campaigns, enhance customer experiences, and improve conversion rates.”

It’s on trend. Respondents to Salesforce’s State of the Sales report this year said they expect AI to become pervasive in sales and marketing by 2020. And roughly 65 percent of them said AI-powered insights into business developments, emails, and calendar data would “make them more effective in their job.”

The new services come hot on the heels of Watson Assistant for Marketing, an AI-powered assistant that delivers email and marketing campaign insights across data sources in a single view, and high-profile IBM Watson collaborations with talent acquisition firm Greenhouse and influencer marketing startups Qoints and Influential.

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