IBM Watson Is Now Offering AI-Powered Digital Ads That Answer Consumers’ Questions

Will first run on Weather Company properties

We've seen Bob Dylan talking to IBM Watson about love and loss in TV spots for months, and Big Blue now wants us to connect with the same kind of artificial intelligence—but not to discuss humanity's deepest issues. No, the idea here is more about the weather and the right kinds of spices to put in our soup. 

The Armonk, N.Y.-based tech giant today is announcing Watson Ads that will let consumers ask questions by voice or text and receive answers. IBM's relatively new ownership of The Weather Company's digital properties is coming into play in a serious fashion: Watson Ads will first appear on Weather.com, the Weather mobile app and the company's data-driven WeatherFX platform. Later, IBM plans to allow them to appear on third-party properties. 

Campbell Soup Company, Unilever and GSK Consumer Healthcare are some of the brands that will run the ads in the coming days. Watson Ads' pricing details were not disclosed. 

Jeremy Steinberg, global head of sales, The Weather Company, described how they work, stating that "machine learning and natural-language capabilities will allow it to provide accurate responses. What we're doing is moving away from keyword searches and towards more natural language and well-reasoned answers."

To use the voice feature, the viewer must have the computer's microphone on.

"For example, one might ask by voice interaction," he continued, "'What can I make for dinner tonight?' Based on its machine learning and reasoning ability from the data it has ingested, Watson can sort through ingredient and flavor profiles to make recommendations based on the weather, time of day, location and even ingredients users have on hand—all surfaced via dynamic ads."

Then, Steinberg said, the Watson ad unit will offer recipes, coupons, etc. Campbell's ads will present consumers with "Chef Watson," which will tie into the brand's Campbell's Kitchen initiative.

"Using the data to offer quick and easy meal solutions in real time is exactly the experience we are looking to drive with consumers," said Marci Raible, director of global media and marketing services at Campbell Soup Company. 

His Camden, N.J.-based foods behemoth is, more or less, building on its Amazon Echo effort that similarly entails letting the consumer use voice to find products. Though, Watson Ads incorporate artificial intelligence with a more traditional form of paid advertising—digital display, for instance—than Echo. 

Theresa Agnew, CMO for GSK Consumer Healthcare, said in a statement, "Cognition humanizes the use of data as we move from intent-based advertising to actual one-to-one interacting. It also gives consumers easy access to information to make better decisions about their healthcare in real time."

Additionally, The Weather Company is creating a Watson Ads Council in which the company will work with marketers to get feedback on best practices for Watson Ads and improve them. 

"They'll help us drive the industry and lead the direction for how cognition can improve advertising," said Steinberg.

Meanwhile, GroupM's MEC and Mindshare—Campbell's and Unilever's media agencies of record, respectively—spearheaded their clients' collaborations, while GSK Consumer Healthcare was brought on by PHD.