Catalyst

Putting Pepper to work

Sravanthi Challapalli | Updated on February 08, 2018 Published on February 08, 2018

SoftBank’s humanoid robot can be friend, brand ambassador and business asset

There are brand ambassadors of various kinds – movie stars, singing stars, sports stars – but to have a robot speak for your brand is a rare thing. And rarer, perhaps, for an entity from the advertising and marketing world to have one. But then, AI in marketing and advertising – with chatbots speaking to customers and robots writing press releases and making short films – is gaining pace, so it should be no surprise that Fountainhead Digital MKTG, from the Dentsu Aegis Network stable, has got itself a member of that tribe to tell the world what they can achieve.

Along with launching The Texperiential Labs, what it calls India’s first experiential technology-focused innovation centre, it has appointed Pepper, a humanoid robot from Softbank Robotics, as its brand ambassador.

Pepper will communicate through voice, touch and emotions to enrich customer experience, says an introductory note from the agency. Thapas Joseph, President, Fountainhead Digital MKTG, says, “It’s up to developers like us to build the applications for Pepper.”

It can have several, thanks to its cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI). “It can connect to APIs and can source knowledge on its own,” he explains. A press note says Pepper evolves with one’s needs, be it personalising experiences, conducting interactive demonstrations or connecting with an organisation’s CRM or sales tools. It will soon be seen as a primary element at retail outlets, hospitality, financial services, brand experiences, corporate engagement events and many other customer experience touchpoints.

Beyond branding

Joseph says that brand activation is just one part. It can be used for business applications that go beyond branding. It can sell products and the transaction can be completed through its own self. “It can sell, it can play the role of a guide in a museum or take visitors through a company’s facilities, or accompany them,” he adds. In fact, look for reports on Pepper and search throws up words such as “friend”, “companion”, “happy” and “entertain”, pointing to its promise of emotional intelligence.

A SoftBank website says Pepper is the first humanoid robot that can recognise the principal human emotions and adapt his behaviour to the mood of his interlocutor. It says more than 140 SoftBank Mobile stores in Japan are using Pepper to welcome, inform and amuse their customers. It has applications for home use as well, including keeping an eye on the young and the elderly, and operating appliances.

It has been tested in various retail stores in California – to greet customers, serve them, chat with them, and, of course, take selfies with them. In 2016, Mastercard said it was trialling MasterPass, its digital payment service, on Pepper, at some Pizza Hut outlets in Asia, the first commercial application on the robot.

While the extent of Pepper’s adoption across enterprises is not clear, Fountainhead Digital has big plans for it. Ask Joseph to describe some of the applications, and he says it can manage the front office – be more than a receptionist, take people through the office, order them a cup of coffee – and even tell them how many calories it has! They are also working with an educational institution to get Pepper “to give children non-judgmental feedback” on the marks they have scored. It’s not like counselling but more like friendly and cheerful motivation, like a pep talk. It has a lot of potential in the education space, he adds.

The Texperiential Labs will feature the latest technologies across virtual, augmented and mixed reality, robotics, multi-platform user experience, social experiential applications, Internet of Things and experiential analytics. Those who work there are drawn from the software industry as well as the creative industry as “our business is tech,” says Joseph.

How did they hit upon the idea of a robot for a brand ambassador? “Because we are a creative tech company, it was a logical extension to get into robotics,” answers Joseph.

In today’s marketing context, where AI and analytics assume prime importance in the journey towards effective customer targeting, robotics, he says, can enhance marketing activity, extend its scope to hyper-personalise what’s on offer and can even evaluate customer experience.

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Published on February 08, 2018
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