“Discoverability — we know that’s a problem,” Google’s Vic Fatnani said onstage at VB Summit 2018. “Imagine if you could bring your conversational assistant to a display ad.”
That’s the idea behind AdLingo, a startup Fatnani cofounded within Google’s Area 120 incubator. It’s the product of two years of development, and it essentially builds a Facebook Messenger-like experience within traditional web and mobile ad units.
Fatnani calls the format Conversational Display Ads.
“People were building these amazing AI experiences, but no one was using them,” Fatnani said. “We thought: ‘[What] if we combine the new school and the old school together?'”
AdLingo works with a variety of chatbot tools, including Microsoft Bot Framework, LiveEngage, Blip, and Google’s Dialogflow. And to kick off a few early campaigns, the startup partnered with chatbot provider Take; LivePerson, a conversational commerce provider; and Valassis Digital, a digital marketing agency that works with more than 1,500 advertisers in the U.S., including Hyundai, Kia, Fiat Chrysler, and Ford.
From a user perspective, the AdLingo experience is dead simple. Clicking a Conversational Display Ad brings up a chatbot flow; if it’s a retailer, products from their portfolio might populate the spot, and if it’s an automaker customers might get a prequalified credit offer or answers to common questions about inventory.
“Today if I click on an ad, I land on a product website and I’m trying to navigate through this and see what I want,” Fatnani said. “We try to keep it much easier.”
Behind the scenes, AdLingo affords advertisers plenty in the way of customization. In partnership with firms like the aforementioned LivePerson and Valassis Digital, they can manage conversations with a combination of AI and humans; carry context across apps, websites, and phone systems; and bring payments handling and reservations systems into AdLingo’s units.
One of AdLingo’s key advantages is its lack of “hop,” Mike Balducci, vice president of strategy at Valassis Digital, said onstage — users can interact with brands without having to navigate away from the website they’re actively browsing.
“The conversation happens right there on the page,” he said. “It can drive traffic through the chatbot experience” and it’s up to ten times more efficient than Facebook News Feed ads.
AdLingo’s not the first to bring conversational interfaces to advertisements. Facebook Messenger serves ads. And IBM’s Watson Ads platform, which launched in 2016 on IBM’s Weather.com and the Weather Channel app and recently became broadly available, promises a deep level of brand personalization. Twitter, meanwhile, experimented with conversational ads — complete with prepopulated brand messages, creative, and hashtag buttons — back in 2016.
But it benefits from Google’s massive reach. Ads are served programmatically through its network, and the cost is impression-based CPM. Balducci notes that AdLingo is one of the first platforms to bring conversational ads outside of walled gardens like Facebook.
The chatbot market is expected to reach $1.23 billion by 2025, according to Grand View Research, and there’s a good reason for its continued growth: Roughly 69 percent of consumers prefer chatbots for quick communication with brands, according to a recent Salesforce survey.
“I want to keep advertisers — did this create value?” Fatnani said. “What can we learn that we double down on the following year?”