I'm not sure if you've heard yet, but there was a rather interesting ad campaign being run on tinder a few weeks back during SXSW. Basically, there was this girl named Ava who started using the app in Austin. She was from New York; she was a twenty-five year old aspiring artist and a lover of city life.
She also didn't actually exist.
Ava, as it turned out, was just a construct - a bot designed by the studio behind the upcoming film Ex Machina. How she - or I suppose, more accurately, it - worked was pretty simple. After someone made a connection with her, she asked them four questions:
- Have you ever been in love?
- What makes you human?
- What attracts you to me?
- If you could meet me anywhere, where would you choose?
At that point, the bot linked the user to the official instagram page for the movie Ex Machina, @meetava.
On the surface, it seems like a pretty brilliant marketing scheme. The film, for those of you who don't know, is about a fully-humanoid artificial intelligence of the same name which premiered at the show on Saturday night. I'm sure you can see the connection - Ava in the film is a self-evolving humanoid AI, while Ava on Tinder is a bot who wants to know what it's like to be human.
Unfortunately, regardless of how creative the ad is, it breaks what I hold to be the cardinal rule of marketing: don't be deceptive.
"It's pretty brilliant in the way it ties into the movie," admits Adweek's Tim Nudd. "It's also pretty invasive, and some will call it spammy. If you think about it, it's only a step above Tinder's porn bots."
Nudd gave it a pass because "it's such a strong fit conceptually." I'm not going to be so lenient. See, here's the thing about the modern web - the expectation of the people that use it is that they're the ones who are put first.
There's a reason inline ads, popups, obnoxious video and sound are on the outs. There's a reason so many users are installing ad-blocking plugins. There's a reason so many people are saying that traditional advertising is dying.
"Consumers want, and expect, to be heard," explains Inside Social CEO Brewster Stanislaw. "Traditional advertising doesn't permit a two-way relationship, because it's based on the premise of a broadcast: the one-to-many paradigm. This means that the advertiser can only make an impression or get attention by talking to (or at) the consumer."
Or in this case, faking a conversation through the use of a bot.
The Ava campaign is great if you look at it solely from the perspective of the advertiser. It's unique, and that gets people talking. It drives traffic to the movie's website.
If you look at it from the perspective of the user, however? It's deceptive. It fools a user into having a conversation, without realizing they're being sold something all the while.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a mistake. You can't do that. You can't put your product or service before the person you're selling it to.
Look, I'm all for creative marketing campaigns. I can appreciate the work that went into putting together the Tinder bot. As a marketer, however, the whole thing just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.