Johnson & Johnson Is Using Pollen Data to Push Into Voice-Based Marketing

Brand goes all-in on third-party stats

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Even allergy recommendations are getting souped up with algorithms powered by brands. Earlier this month, Johnson & Johnson’s Zyrtec rolled out a Google Assistant skill that cranks out daily allergy and weather information as part of a bigger data initiative to personalize messaging.

And at a time when more brands are doubling down on first-party data to avoid the pitfalls often associated with third-party vendors, Zyrtec is an intriguing example of how marketers are cobbling together third-party data to make sense of the plethora of stats it receives every day.

Zyrtec’s 7-year-old AllergyCast mobile app is at the center of the brand’s data efforts. The app pulls in data from 41,000 ZIP codes through, stats from, location data and social insights to create an algorithm that spits out stats about the current pollen count. The data is then pushed into voice skills for Amazon Echo and Google Assistant as well as to a mobile app and website.

“Voice is about doing, whereas if you’re searching or on a website, you’re about knowing,” said Chad Mizee, director of digital for self care at Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. “Weather is also a top five query typically—the behavior is already there so extending that into an allergy impact for consumers where it’s relevant can be a real asset to them.”

Asking Google Assistant to “talk to Zyrtec” pulls up the experience and asks consumers about their allergies, including their location and what information they want to use to create personalized daily pollen reports. Weather factors like wind, precipitation and regional differences feed into the recommendations the skill makes.

Mizee said the main goal of the voice skill is to examine how many consumers reuse it after playing with it once.

“We started last year with Amazon Alexa—I don’t think we got quite the adoption that we wanted to [because] we’re interested in more of an open platform that Google provides,” Mizee said. The Google Assistant version of the skill is also less chatty than the Alexa version and provides only the daily pollen information up front. Consumers can then ask more in-depth questions like which pollens are popping at any given time.

Zyrtec is working to make deeper sense of the data to be able to tell which allergens trigger a reaction, for example. But Zyrtec isn’t privy to deeper stats that identify specific traits of consumers that could be used for anonymous ad targeting.

“We’re not in the business of being a diagnostic tool. It’s still information, so it’s based on what you put in and how the environment feels for you—there’s a line there with getting into medical device apps that we’re careful to stay away from,” Mizee said. “We don’t get a lot of the personalized data back at this point beyond the download and user experiences—I think that is the opportunity.”

With more brands choosing to beef up their own first-party data in the wake of Facebook’s data crisis and the European Union’s upcoming General Data Protection Regulation, Zyrtec’s decision to go all in on third-party data is particularly intriguing.

Unlike other data-rich categories like automotive and finance, where brands have direct access to information such as warranties and accounts, data is harder for consumer-packaged-goods brands to get their hands on since they’re often impulse buys and are sold through retailers, which adds not only another middleman, but another layer of data-ownership complexity.

“Historically, CPGs have been challenged by the lag time in receiving data about offline sales, which can take up to 12 weeks and is aggregated, providing minimal context into consumer purchasing preferences,” said Katie Ford, chief client officer at Amobee. “This made it very difficult to tie digital media to offline purchases while the campaign was in flight.”

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.