This Agency Made a Facebook Messenger Bot for Cannes That Turns Your Emotions Into GIFs

Including a giant installation with more than 1,700 LED lights

San Francisco-based Heat made an innovative, artificial-intelligence-based program for this year's gala.

CANNES, France—From winning awards to running around for meetings and panels, Cannes can be a stressful week. So, San Francisco-based Heat built a Facebook Messenger chat bot that plays off your emotions.

“I think the technology is really exciting, especially because to me it seems like a way faster interface to use in interactive concepts, [but] I get slightly less from the very conversational bots where they’re trying to help you with something practical,” said Stijn Jansen, digital art director at Heat. “It’s not very emotional. We wanted to approach chat bots from a completely different angle.”

Jansen said the idea for the chat bot started about seven weeks ago and is connected to the agency and parent company Deloitte’s partnership with the Cannes Lions school, where roughly 400 young folks spent the past week competing, networking and attending classes.

“I think exactly 10 years ago I was an attendee of that school as well and it’s a very overwhelming week,” Jansen said. “Their cubicles are kind of sad-looking, very white—not the most inspiring space to brainstorm. So, we wanted to be really close to them where they could hang out, escape from all the white light.”

Dubbed Heatbot, it first asks people to answer a few questions about how they’re feeling. On the backend, the chat bot covers eight basic emotions that are connected to 1,000 responses. After answering the questions, Facebook Messenger pushes out a series of GIFs and photos that relate to the emotion.

“Heatbot plays a sequence of GIFs for you that make you feel a certain way,” and are based on color theory, Jansen said.

Someone who is happy, for example, may be sent goofy GIFs, while someone who is sad is sent GIFs of hugs and smiles. The most popular emotion this week has been tired.

“If you’re feeling good, it wants to celebrate with you. If you’re feeling tired, sad, lonely or uninspired, then it will create content that helps you get over that hump,” said Robert Betts, digital executive producer at Heat.

Inside the Palais, Heat installed a 42-inch-by-42-inch LED matrix panel that houses more than 1,700 lights—each pixel contains three LED lights—to show off the chat bot. The panel is connected to Facebook Messenger through a technology that prompts you to verify that you’re inside the Cannes installation by typing a code into Facebook Messenger before starting. A series of GIFs representing the emotion then dance across the panel while music plays in the background for a couple of minutes.

Once the experience ends, users are sent a GIF of themselves watching the GIF show. After Cannes ends, Heat plans to use the LED light display and bot to demo chat bots for clients and set it up for other events.

“We wanted to innovate with chat bots, make our team familiar with how scripting works, what other things you can do with it,” Jansen said. “We can fine-tune it for next events that we want to use it on, since we have built the whole infrastructure.”

The LED panel is large and intriguing enough to get stuck in a Paris airport for four days on the way to Cannes, causing Jansen to fly to Paris and track it down.

“Customs and FedEx were basically not giving me any information,” he said. “We found the warehouse where it was stored and since I speak French, I was able to charm the local receptionist. She did everything for me, and I was on my way back to Cannes—the morning after, Heatbot was live.”