Google-backed startup's chat bots turn ads into conversations

Marketing material that talks back.

AdLingo, a marketing platform fresh out of Google's Area 120 incubator program, is making advertisements "conversational" with the help of AI. AdLingo doesn't build its own chatbots, but instead connects third-party chatbot tools with a company's marketing department.

The result is an chatbox experience, whether on a website or in an app, that allows a potential shopper to ask a bot about a product. A handy virtual salesperson answers questions in real time, meaning that a prospective buyer doesn't have to search far for answers.

According to AdLingo, the idea for adding chatbot technology to marketing seemed like a logical next step in an increasingly AI-aided world. AdLingo co-founder and general manager Vic Fatnani told TechCrunch, "Everything is becoming more conversational, whether it's through devices such as your phone, your speaker and eventually your car...We asked ourselves, 'Hey if this shift is happening, why can't marketing be more conversational?'"

The platform's earliest clients include Allstar Kia and live-auction site Tophatter, and feedback so far on the retailer side seems positive. According to Chris Ferrall of Allstar Kia's internet marketing department, AdLingo's ability to marry information with interactivity creates a positive experience for Kia shoppers. However, it may be too early to predict how people will react to a bombardment of chatbots peddling various wares in popup windows.

Since virtual assistants are everywhere -- our phones, in our homes, and even inside video games -- this announcement probably wouldn't surprise even Clippy. As to what products chatbots hawk next, only time and AI will tell. While conversational marketing is probably here to stay -- and may have positive potential if used responsibly -- for now, it feels like a marketing tool customers may not need.