Meet the World’s Worst Voice Assistant in This Brand’s Brutal, Funny Takedown of AI

Verify your sources... even if it's a robot

Robots are everywhere. And it’s a problem.

They clean our houses (probably while stealing our data), sit around at home getting hacked by pushy brands, take our jobs and beat us at games. 

Aren’t you sick of it?

Thankfully, insurance company SafeAuto’s got the antidote: Fârnhäan, an AI voice assistant whose cold, calculating superiority is masked not by puppy eyes or creepy facial expressions but by swaggering inaccuracy, delivered in a confident German-ish accent that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger wince.

The “Fârnhäan” campaign builds on the brand’s previous “Terrible Quotes” effort, which lifted SafeAuto sales by 77 percent.

“We’re tapping into an evolving conversation in America today,” says co-founder and creative director John Trahar of Greatest Common Factory, which developed the idea. “Between fake news and malfunctioning AI devices, we hear more things said with authority that don’t sound quite right. So we created a character and a spoof that we can extend almost indefinitely across situations and media platforms.”

Trahar isn’t exaggerating. The campaign’s scope is a match made in programmatic heaven, with iterations for TV, social, digital, out-of-home, radio and pre-roll—spreading Fârnhäan far and wide.

Perhaps that’s apt: As Trahar points out, “Fârnhäan” is also inspired by the proliferation of fake news, a subject ironically portrayed in the spot “Headlines”—when, instead of lying to its owner about today’s current events, Fârnhäan says, “There are no headlines today. Everything worked out fine from yesterday and the many days before.”

“Not bad for a Monday,” the owner says, after which Fârnhäan neatly switches the subject to his khakis. (“This is how I want to remember you.”)

Below, Fârnhäan explains the ingredients of baklava. Who knew it included toothpaste “for color”?

Programmatic bait aside, the ads’ production can be broken down into a menagerie of optimized marketing best practices, which encompass their quick-fire quirkiness, scope and topical diversity, though that hardly scratches the surface. Each kicks off with a “SafeAuto” audio trigger that is so brief, so difficult to understand at the outset, it’s damn near subliminal. The shenanigans follow, cut each time by an incredulous “That doesn’t sound right!” breaking their own fourth wall.

They end à la Geico, crisply telling you that “SafeAuto can get you a great car insurance quote in just three minutes that could save you 25 percent! Glad someone’s making sense.”

But there’s art to the machinery, too. The best parts of the ads are when Fârnhäan demonstrates their own agency. They do this in “The Bet,” when they settle a couple’s debate by explaining, in the “truthiest” way possible, how many tentacles an octopus has.

“Reading boyfriend’s browser history!” the bot hisses, slapstick-style, as the commercial comes to a close.

They also do this in a radio ad called “Chinese Restaurant,” which explains why Fârnhäan is a “they” and not a “he.” Like hackers or the demonically possessed, Fârnhäan is legion.

Chill out, Fârnhäan! And in case you wondered, the travel time to the nearest worthwhile Chinese restaurant is “16 weeks … by motorcycle.”

There’s clearly more to Fârnhäan than meets the eye. In fact, SafeAuto went so far as to give its wooden take on Alexa a backstory, portrayed by Dr. Greta von Blünk, their German inventor—a woman so bizarre that she’s practically a Belinda Blinked character.

In this video, she describes Fârnhäan’s technical speeds, which would “make all tech dinks moisten their jumpsuits, and we say that on the box.”

Greta is introduced in a series of Steve Job-style ads in :30 and :60 variants, cut from the same principal video, shown below. Among other things, she explains Fârnhäan’s origins and design philosophy.

“The tip of the bulb is his mind; it flickers with life,” Greta expounds at one point. “It is also fragile and costly, and sold separately. Just like human relationships.”

As for why Fârnhäan—despite all their intelligence—so loves a tall tale, Greta submits the following: “Any device can search oceans of impersonal data and find the correct answer; Fârnhäan looks at the big picture and guesses!” 

That’s an almost poetic description of the human condition.

“The big challenge in marketing today is content creation moving slower than types of media now available,” says SafeAuto’s customer demand and experience leader, Charlie Kordes.

“Fârnhäan is a visual mnemonic we can easily translate to social media, streaming, and in-app/inline content, without a lot of incremental cost. We can’t afford to make 700 original pieces of content, but we can easily have the device say 700 different things. And we’re co-opting all the marketing and awareness behind AI to increase our relevance as we highlight our simple value proposition.”

Spoken like a true tech-lover bent on world domination. Below, find just a handful of the many advertising variations he refers to, divided by type.

VIDEO

RADIO

DIGITAL DISPLAY

OUT-OF-HOME

A FEW PRE-ROLL VARIANTS

HULU PRE-SHOW