IBM launches Watson powered ad effort: Can cognitive revamp advertising?

IBM's Watson advertising effort is exiting its beta phase first on The Weather Co., which is owned by Big Blue. Unilever and GSK are up next.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

IBM's Watson-powered ads graduate from beta this week in hopes that cognitive computing can make marketing more engaging and personalized industry by industry.

Chances are pretty good that Watson may be on to something.

The Watson-infused ads, initially announced in June, are rolling out on The Weather Co. properties such as its mobile app. The advertiser, Campbell's Soup Co., is using the units to market based on weather patterns, location and other attributes.

For Campbell's marketing based on weather isn't unusual since a cold snap in October can make a quarter just as easily as a thaw in January can kill it. Jeremy Steinberg, global head of IBM's The Weather Company, said Big Blue is pondering various business model for the Watson cognitive ads.

Campbell ads are the first out of the gate with Unilever and GSK following. Toyota Watson ads will land in the first quarter and other categories such as retail and financial services will follow. "We're trying to figure out a long-term model and what it should be. Subscription is a possible as is advertising as a service," said Steinberg. "The long-term model hasn't been finalized."

What makes Watson ads interesting is that they are about engagement not necessarily clicks or CPM. "They are about engaging customers and driving action," said Steinberg. The ads from Watson will initially be focused on mobile.

For instance, Watson can deliver recipes based on Campbell's soup based on its knowledge of cooking. Watson has had extensive training with chefs. Watson will also integrate what other users are making. Add it up and one benefit of a cognitive ad is that it can serve as a focus group to some degree.

Can Watson ads deliver that elusive 1:1 marketing experience at scale and across industries? That's the bet. GSK's beta will revolve around cold and flu and consumers making better decisions. Unilever has a bevy of touch points where it can use Watson. Ultimately, Watson ads may be used to enhance the shopping experience or advise you on what cocktail to have. "We see Watson scaling across advertisers and verticals," said Steinberg.

Apparently advertising agencies are interested too. The initial Watson ads were all created with the help of agencies.

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