Quartz and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Created AI-Powered Ads to Take Readers Deeper Into Stories

Hugo helps users learn more about the series' topics

"Hugo," Quartz's new chatbot, was created for Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Quartz
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Quartz is readying the launch of its first ads powered with artificial intelligence.

To accompany today’s release of “Machines With Brains”—a new series about the rapidly evolving intersection of humans, technology and artificial intelligence—Quartz partnered with Hewlett Packard Enterprise and DigitasLBi to debut a chatbot, which will help users learn more about the stories’ topics and how HPE creates technology related to the series.

The bot, named Hugo, will be accessible through two formats that will appear within the stories as native display ads. For each story in the Machines With Brains series, Quartz’s back-end technology will analyze an article to understand its content and then serve a relevant display ad about it, prompting the reader to start a conversation with Hugo about that topic. Another format will display quotes from HPE executives and other experts, which lead directly to the bot when clicked on.

The campaign was developed by Quartz Creative, the creative services unit of the company, and will evolve over the next several months as users engage with the bot and as Quartz improves it through training. And while some chatbots for brands sometimes aim to be as human-like as possible—and therefore often fail to impress—Hugo isn’t trying to convince anyone of anything it’s not.

“We spent a good chunk of time thinking about what the personality of the bot would be,” said Michael Dolan, Quartz Creative’s creative director. “And that was part of the way that we came up with Hugo, because I think our biggest concern at the outset of this was we wanted it to feel like you were actually having a conversation with a machine with a brain.”

According to Marissa Freeman, chief brand officer of HPE, the bot is both a marketing initiative and also a product demo. She said Hugo takes a reader or a customer from general interest engagement all the way down to a sales function. (In other words, it’s a combination of business-to-consumer marketing and business-to-business marketing, but also part awareness and part lead generation.) It does this with the help of more than 1,100 facts from HPE and Quartz content integrated into the software.

“You can direct the conversation deeper and deeper based on your level of knowledge and what you want to read about next,” Freeman said. “So you can stay at 50,000 feet and just find out what everybody else in the world is doing with AI, or you can click down further and further and further to what are the companies that are providing this type of technology.”

Artificial intelligence and bots have been an area of investment for Quartz. In January, it acquired Intelligentsia.ai, an AI research startup based in San Francisco. The media company has also created several of its own chatbots, including the Quartz news app that debuted last year for the iPhone. Last fall, it created the Quartz Bot Studio, thanks in part to funding from the Knight Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting innovative journalism.

According to Zach Seward, an executive editor and svp of product at Quartz, bots are the latest part of the equation in a massive user shift to messaging.

“I like to refer to bots simply as software you can talk to,” Seward said. “It’s just software, but rather than clicking and tapping on it, you’re talking to it. And it just so happens that they fit particularly well and solve some really important problems in messaging environments and voice environments.”

This isn’t the first time Quartz and HPE have worked together. Last year, the companies collaborated on the Hewlett Packard Living Progress event, held at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

DigitasLBi, which won the HPE account last fall, has been helping the brand become more digitally relevant across various verticals. According to Sean Mahoney, vp group director at DigitasLBi, HPE has been around Silicon Valley for so long that it’s sometimes taken for granted as a legacy company at a time when younger tech companies are getting all the buzz. However, he said HPE “effectively builds the machines that brains live on,” making for a clear connection with Quartz’s editorial series.

“They don’t have that sexy vibe that an Uber has or obviously Facebook, one of the big ones that have popped off with the new models,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is that if it wasn’t for somebody like HPE with this infrastructure that you really take for granted, nothing else would work. So it’s trying to make people realize that they’ve prepared us for the next wave, and the current wave, of sort of interconnectivity and making this giant global world that we live in into a smaller place.”

@martyswant martin.swant@adweek.com Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.