Mountain Dew, the PepsiCo brand that is the No. 4 carbonated soft drink in the U.S., is sponsoring a chatbot featuring NBA star Russell Westbrook, who goes by the nickname “Brodie.” The league’s most valuable player will answer fan questions on Facebook Messenger, according to MediaPost.
The "Assists by Russ” bot was developed by VaynerMedia and has more than 200 unique responses to questions about style, fashion, art and his 2017 season. Westbrook last week was named Best Male Athlete at the 2017 Espy Awards after a record-setting 42 triple-double games last season.
Richie Cruz, NBA lead for marketing of Mountain Dew, said the soft-drink brand will drive awareness of the bot through paid Facebook posts for the next five weeks.
Chatbots have been disparaged for being clunky stand-ins for real human beings, but brands continue to experiment with the technology as a way to engage audiences. No one will mistake Mountain Dew’s “Assists by Russ” chatbot for a live conversation with the star athlete, but it’s not meant to be anything more than light entertainment for Westbrook’s fans. Meanwhile, Mountain Dew raises brand awareness on social media.
The strategy is similar to retailer DXL's recent sponsorship of the Trash Talk with Gary Payton chatbot from GameOn, which incorporated the brand into the experience in several ways.
Facebook Messenger chief David Marcus in April said there are 100,000 bots on the messaging service, up from 33,000 in September, at the social network’s F8 developer conference. He said 20 million businesses are fielding customer questions in Messenger. Although chatbots are multiplying, they’re still not very pervasive. Forrester Research found 4% of companies have launched chatbots, and another 31% percent plan to implement them. Limitations of the technology are holding back their use. Google, which recognizes the need to improve chatbots and artificial intelligence, last week started to push its People + AI Research Initiative to advance the development of “people-centric” AI systems.
As Marketing Land points out, there may be thousands and thousands of bots on Facebook Messenger, but the platforms 1.2 billion users rarely know about them. Facebook is acutely aware of that problem. To address it, Messenger has added a section to help people unearth bots and business profiles. Facebook has also enhanced the capabilities of its Messenger assistant M to recommend businesses to users within conversations where businesses might be relevant.