Why Marketers Shouldn’t Be Seduced Into Using Believable Bots

Ex Machina's clever use of Tinder could start a risky trend on chat apps

Sex and advertising are usually a reliable mix. Unless, of course, you trick consumers into thinking they might have a chance of hooking up with your deceptive spokesbot masquerading as an online dater.

Willful indulgence in fantasy is one thing, but catfishing potential customers is another.

That's what the new movie Ex Machina essentially did with a marketing campaign on Tinder, creating a fake profile with a photo of the film's lovely Swedish star and messaging potential daters. The campaign was part of the movie's South by Southwest debut in Austin.

After Adweek broke the story, the movie's marketing effort garnered praise and quite a bit of criticism online. Some marketing experts raised concerns that it was the kind of idea that could take the industry down a dark path, and consumers would not want to come along for the ride.

"The consumer's point of view seems to get lost here," said ad veteran Tim Geogeghan, who has been both a creative director and marketing educator. "It's creative, it's clever, but take a step back and ask, 'What do we want to leave people with?'"

He said it would be like tricking a consumer into thinking they were about to get a job opportunity, and then serving an ad for deodorant with some message about staying fresh under pressure.

Ex Machina is about robots and the ability to experience love, so the Tinder promotion did fit the theme. The 25-year-old woman in the profile began by messaging users with this: "Have you ever been in love?" And then continued with further robot-like comments about "humans" and attraction, before sending users to an Instagram page for the movie.

"While this was a great ploy to get people to view the ad for the premiere, it clearly would leave people irritated that they fell for that sort of trickery," said Ken Wisnefski, CEO of WebiMax, a social media-marketing firm. "Honestly, if that was me who fell for that, I'd feel somewhat embarrassed and would in no way have any interest in going to the movie premiere because I would be irritated the marketing toyed with me."

The studio that produced the movie, DNA Studios, did not return a request for comment.

On Tinder, daters make a match after they both swipe right on each other's profiles, allowing them to text one another. Spam marketing has been a problem on the app, particularly from sex-peddling automated accounts that just match everyone and then send messages with links to spam sites.

Of course, Tinder is not alone in unwittingly hosting such tactics. Twitter has long been plagued by millions of fake marketing accounts, often bots, and newcomers like Kik combat similar spam messaging. Facebook, too, has waged an everlasting purge against fake fans.

The movie Ex Machina is simply the latest brand to set up a fake profile and go swiping for an audience. The Gap clothing brand has even set up a promotion on the platform, although it didn't lead users to believe they were communicating with a potential soul mate.

Talking directly with consumers is an increasingly important component of social media management, and marketing on these new messaging platforms is still new territory. It was unclear if Tinder had any knowledge of the movie campaign before it ran, but in the case of Gap, it did not.

Tinder is still working out how advertising will appear, at least for users who choose the free tier of service. The company could not immediately be reached for comment.

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