‘Pikachu Talk’ Markets Pokémon Day With Zero UI

In honor of “Pokémon Day” on February 27, which honors the franchise’s 22nd anniversary, the Pokémon Company has released Pikachu Talk—a new skill for Amazon Alexa and Google Home that allows users to have a “conversation” with the famous Pokémon character.

The skill follows a trend of using celebrity and fictional character voices for zero UI marketing, which creates opportunities for brands to get creative with consumer interaction. Over the past year, marketers have experimented with uses for voice interaction that range from video game integration to cocktail recipes.

Fulfilling the childhood—and in some cases, adulthood—fantasies of interacting with a character such as Pikachu can create a sense of closeness with the brand. Parents can use the Pikachu Talk skill to introduce a “childhood friend” to their own children using their voice. Interacting with a celebrity-voice AI can also make consumers feel connected to someone they admire and by extension, the brand they represent.

Eric Bisceglia, vice president of Go-To-Market at Voysis—a voice AI platform that enables natural language instruction and search—says that this emerging technology creates opportunities for more than just Google and Amazon.

“Just like with mobile devices in the early 2000s, voice AI is revolutionizing how we interact with technology as well as how we discover and consume content,” Bisceglia told AListDaily. “As usage of voice continues to skyrocket, it’s critical that marketers develop a voice strategy now.”

Brands are noticing and taking advantage. In December, Activision and developer Bungie launched an official Alexa skill that integrates directly into Destiny 2. The Ghost skill—so named for a player’s companion AI in the game—uses voice recognition to equip loadouts, provide details about a player’s progress or connect with other players through Alexa.

For the September debut of Star Trek: Discovery, CBS created a feature for Amazon Echo. Users can change the wake word to “computer,” as if they are speaking to onboard computers in the Star Trek universe. Consumers can also try out different sayings to prompt Star Trek-themed responses from the AI assistant, such as “Alexa, red alert” and “Alexa, beam me up.”

Last April, Hearst—publisher of O, The Oprah Magazine—teamed up with Amazon to create an experimental project called “O to Go.” The skill for Amazon Echo features Oprah Winfrey reading 90 snippets from her book, What I Know for Sure when prompted by the user.

First released in Japan, Pikachu Talk is now available for Amazon Alexa devices in most countries and Google Home devices in the US. Fans can ask Alexa or Google Home to speak with Pikachu and he will respond. Users can then ask questions or have him tell a story, all the form of “pika” or “pikachu.”

Further celebrating its holiday beyond the Amazon skill activation, The Pokémon Company has also introduced Snapchat filters and special events inside its hit mobile AR game, Pokémon GO.

Inclusive Internet Index: Connectivity Hurdles Persist In Developing Nations

Low-income and emerging nations are expanding their internet infrastructure almost ten times faster than the developed world. But despite the triumphs of higher connectivity and cheaper access, many problems still persist, the Inclusive Internet Index reveals.

“Connectivity gives people a voice and helps them find and share knowledge, strengthen their economies, and improve their communities,” write Robert Pepper and Molly Jackman, Facebook’s head of global connectivity policy and public policy research manager, respectively. “Bringing people online can offer life-changing opportunities, but there are still approximately 3.8 billion people without internet access.”

Facebook and The Economist Intelligence Unit’s second annual Inclusive Internet Index has revealed that the developing world has increased internet access by 65.1 percent over the past twelve months. Despite this impressive growth, the absolute numbers are less impressive: low-income-nation access to the internet is still only 13.2 percent of households.

Expanding and improving access to 4G mobile internet networks is picking up the slack, nearly doubling in availability for low-income countries.

“In some countries, fixed-line internet access is too expensive or inaccessible — that’s why mobile services are critical,” Pepper and Jackman write. “In fact, the average 4G coverage rate for low-income countries increased year-over-year from 9.1 percent to 17.3 percent, with particularly rapid expansion in Guatemala, Indonesia, Thailand, Zambia and China.”

This increased access to the internet is driving consumers in developing and emerging markets to earn more, spend less and feel more independent. Almost 70 percent of internet users in Asia, the Middle East and Africa claim that internet access has made them more empowered and independent, while 67 percent believed that internet access is a human right. In the same regions, the average price for broadband plans dropped by 17 percent.

Not all of the Internet Inclusivity Index’s findings were positive, however. Despite reduced costs, the price of internet access is still too high for many, especially in developing countries.

“People are still devoting too much of their earnings on internet access relative to their income level,” write Pepper and Jackman. “In too many low-income countries, it is still not as affordable as the UN 2025 target of less than 2 percent of GNI [gross national income] per capita.”

Additionally, concerns over privacy and security have caused many to limit their internet use. Fears over “creepy” messaging isn’t limited to the first world: less than half of all internet users feel at least “somewhat” confident that their online activity is private, and 85 percent of European users claim that privacy concerns have caused them to use the internet less.

This fear can hit brands, especially ones focused on e-commerce, directly in their wallets. Only 62 percent of global Inclusive Internet Index respondents reported feeling safe and secure while online shopping, costing e-retailers potential customers through no direct fault of their own.

The push for a more inclusive internet is making significant progress, but work remains to be done if marketers hope to expand their share of global prosperity.

“Private companies can continue to extend the internet’s infrastructure and invent new technologies and applications that increase access to connectivity and amplify its relevance,” Jackman and Pepper write. “There is still more to do.”

Oath Looks To Compete In Mobile AR With Ad Platform

Oath launched new mobile ad formats at Mobile World Congress including mobile AR, full screen native and social interactive options. These new mobile ads were designed to compete with tech giants like Google, Facebook and Snapchat.

Brands in the US will now have access to interactive ads across Verizon’s network of mobile apps, with testing available in select international markets. The ads are linked to Yahoo Gemini programmatic marketplace, allowing Verizon to take full advantage of its recent acquisitions and all the tools thereof. First announced in December, these new advertising options are part of Oath’s plan to “simplify, strengthen and scale” its creative ad portfolio over the coming year.

Mobile AR Ads

Oath’s AR mobile ad unit can be embedded directly into mobile apps like Yahoo Mail. Selecting the ad allows consumers to visualize products within their surroundings. Home Depot, Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn were among the first to test the ads over the past few months.

Mobile AR finds a natural home in the worlds of retail and beauty, with brands like Ikea and CoverGirl utilizing the technology to aid in purchase decisions.

Visualization is becoming even more important to the buyer’s journey as consumers adopt AR into their daily lives. A recent study by DigitalBridge found that 74 percent of consumers say they now expect retailers to offer them some kind of AR experience.

Together with Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore fresh out of beta, consumers’ AR shopping wishes can come true.

Full-screen Native Ads

Designed to compete with rivals Snapchat and Instagram, Oath’s full-screen native ad format will run across all of Oath’s mobile apps. This includes, but is not limited to, Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Weather and HuffPost.

Just in time for tax season, online accounting software brand Intuit will be the first to try out the new full-screen native ad.

Mobile Wallet Coupons

Oath is also launching a mobile ad that allows users to save coupons and deals to their mobile wallet. The interactive ads are integrated into a brand’s social content, which translates directly to ROI measurement.

Coupons were named as a leading influence on purchase decisions by 74 percent of consumers aged 23-36, according to a June 2017 study by Lab42. Gen Z (ages 13-22) gave a similar response at 60 percent.

Adding new incentives to use a digital wallet may be the shot in the arm financial brands have been looking for, as well. Mobile wallets made up a paltry one percent of retail sales in 2016, according to Mastercard, but awareness isn’t the problem. Rather, a lack of loyalty programs and incentives may be to blame.

Mastercard analyzed a year’s worth of conversations—over 3.5 million—across social media that discussed online payments. The financial brand found that 75 percent of conversations involved digital wallets with 42 percent taking place in North America and 72 percent overall being of a positive nature.

Meanwhile, an Urban Airship study from 2016 found that 67 percent of consumers want loyalty functionality in a mobile wallet. Adding coupons would be a start.

For Mobile World Congress, Google Goes Global On AR, Voice

As thousands of marketers and executives prepare to fly out to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress, Google has been busy preparing too, expanding its slate of voice and augmented reality offerings for a global audience.

Augmented Reality

Google is expanding its push on augmented reality, announcing that ARCore, its AR development kit, will become publicly available at Mobile World Congress this year.

“Developers can now publish AR apps to the Play Store, and it’s a great time to start building,” writes Anuj Gosalia, Google’s director of AR engineering. “ARCore works on 100 million Android smartphones, and advanced AR capabilities are available on all of these devices.”

Additionally, Google is expanding augmented reality support in a slew of international markets, beginning with China on devices by Huawei, Xiaomi and Samsung.

Google is also tying its AR efforts with its Assistant, launching a preview version of Google Lens (not to be confused with Snapchat’s Lens) for English-language users. Rather than apply 3D stickers on real-time camera views, Lens will allow users to create events and contacts, and highlight text, from previously taken photos.

“Smarter cameras will enable our smartphones to do more. With ARCore 1.0, developers can start building delightful and helpful AR experiences for them right now,” Gosalia writes.

With other brands’ AR activations garnering favor among both press and consumers, it is indeed a great time to start building.

Voice and Zero-UI

Nick Fox, Google’s vice president of product, announced today that the voice-powered Google Assistant will support more than 30 languages by year’s end, accounting for 95 percent of Android’s install base.

The Google Assistant will also become multilingual later this year, furthering efforts to make voice search and zero-UI control more seamless.

“With this new feature, the Assistant will be able to understand you in multiple languages fluently,” Fox writes. “If you prefer to speak German at work, but French at home, your Assistant is right there with you.”

Google’s other announcements, such as its partnerships with mobile device manufacturers and the release of its Routines feature, are likewise not particularly groundbreaking, but serve to further the company’s efforts to further ubiquitize its voice platform.

“We’ve been focused on making the Assistant useful throughout all parts of your day,” Fox writes.

Mobile AR In Focus As Billions In Consumer Spending Anticipated

Updates to Apple’s ARkit and Google’s anticipated ARCore launch at Mobile World Congress are creating a shift in the mobile marketing landscape. As mobile AR comes into focus, the medium is expected to generate $5.4 billion in direct consumer spending by 2021, according to new estimates by SuperData Research.

“The rise of mobile AR provides a valuable new medium for marketers to create experiences,” Carter Rogers, senior analyst at SuperData told AListDaily. “Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore have expanded the addressable audience for high-quality mobile AR into the hundreds of millions.”

Investors have taken notice, especially following the success of mobile AR products like Pokémon GO, which has earned $1.8B since its launch in 2016. SuperData reports that investments in immersive technology grew 40 percent year over year in 2017, with 51 percent of the year’s total going to AR and mixed reality (MR).

This is good news for Google, which is planning a major push for mobile AR on Android devices at Mobile World Congress this year, sources told Variety. With the release of Google’s ARCore framework, third-party developers will finally get the green light to create mobile AR experiences for Android devices.

First announced in August, Google said it plans to bring ARCore to 100 million phones in the near future. In the meantime, AR stickers on Pixel phones are serving as a proof of concept.

Games drove 91 percent of mobile AR revenue in 2017, according to SuperData’s new report, Nowhere To Go But Up: The Future of XR. The cost of AR and MR headsets will remain high for the next few years, which shifts consumer interest to the smartphones already in their hands.

Targeted mobile ads proved particularly effective last year. Google AdWords delivered the highest ROI across both Android and iOS platforms in 2017. Just as brands took full advantage of Pokémon GO traffic, location-based advertising on mobile AR creates new opportunities for brands to get creative with personalization.

“Revenue from ads has the potential to be massive [on mobile AR],” said Rogers. “Roughly three in five mobile AR users want to see content featuring real locations and landmarks. This presents opportunities for location-based ads to be utilized in a similar manner to existing services like Yelp and Google Maps.”

According to SuperData’s report, locations and landmarks were by far the most requested element in mobile AR by consumers at 58 percent. The next most-requested element was “celebrities” at 24 percent.

Apple won’t be attending Mobile World Congress this year, but its own mobile AR efforts will be on indirect display through developers. A recent update allows ARkit to detect walls, vertical planes and improved horizontal plotting. The camera now displays real object in 1080p to match superimposed high definition AR objects, creating a more seamless mobile AR experience.

Worldwide spend on augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) is expected to hit $17.8 billion in 2018, a 95 percent rise from last year, according to research firm IDC, and the technology is expected to make a big appearance at MWC.

Consumers Prefer Apps To Mobile Web For Ecommerce

Mobile shopping apps saw a major increase in sales last quarter, according to a new study by adtech firm Criteo. The findings support previous studies that consumers are more likely to purchase from shopping apps than mobile web.

In the fourth quarter of 2017, advertisers across the world saw a 46 percent increase in app transactions. Across the 5,000 retailers that participated, the conversion rate for shopping apps was 21 percent. This is more than three times higher than the standard six percent conversion rate seen on mobile web.

North American retailers accounted for 67 percent of in-app mobile purchases. The study found that in most world regions, mobile now accounts for more than half of online transactions.

In-app purchases accounted for 66 percent of mobile transactions for retailers who generate sales on both mobile web and app. Omnichannel customers generate 27 percent of all sales, Criteo found, despite representing only seven percent of all customers.

Non-app transactions are still becoming more popular on mobile devices, but only on phones. Smartphone transactions in the US increased by 13.2 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2016 while tablet usage declined a whopping 26.5 percent.

Shopping on work computers (you know who you are) is still commonplace, as desktop usage continues to dominate during work hours, especially from 9:00 a.m. to noon. The practice slipped a minor 1.1 percent in the fourth quarter.

Criteo suggests targeting US mobile consumers on nights and weekends, and desktop users during work hours.

Sporting goods led mobile non-app sales in the retail category at 44 percent, followed by fashion/luxury and health/beauty at 40 and 38 percent, respectively. High tech trailed behind at 20 percent.

Even when consumers make a final purchase on a desktop computer, a quarter of sales are attributed to mobile discovery. The study found that 26 percent of desktop sales were preceded by a click on a mobile device. This was four percent lower than the previous quarter.

Fifteen percent of desktop transactions are preceded by clicks on another desktop. That means 41 percent of post-click desktop transactions originated from another device.

Combining intent unlocks the ability to capture more dollars per shopper, the study suggests. Average order values increase 17 percent for matched shoppers, especially in the fashion/luxury, health/beauty and high-tech categories.

Pandora’s Programmatic Platform A Move To Prioritize Advertisers

Pandora internet radio is taking a split on its business plan, pushing its users toward ad-free subscriptions while finally adding programmatic ad support for its ad-monetized free service. In an earnings call on Tuesday, Pandora CEO Roger Lynch announced that, at long last, certain advertisers can now purchase audio ad inventory programmatically through a private marketplace.

The change has been a long time coming for Pandora, as audio competitors have been adopting their own programmatic offerings. Spotify launched its programmatic platform back in 2016, and iHeartRadio had one in 2014.

“Last quarter, we spoke about our need to invest in ad tech, including increased focus on programmatic, which will leverage many of the strong capabilities we already have—scale, targeting and innovative ad formats,” Pandora CEO Roger Lynch said.

Once Pandora’s programmatic options become widely available, ad buyers will be able to purchase inventory on both Pandora and Spotify’s streaming services using the same tools, allowing brands to better coordinate omnichannel campaigns.

However, Lynch did not announce when the new platform will become available for all advertisers, claiming that the company needed to ensure stability first.

“Before we open the floodgates for all demand, we need to make sure that we’re understanding how all of the different systems interact,” Eric Picard, Pandora’s vice president of product management, said. “Things haven’t scaled from a volume perspective the way the market has wanted in the audio space.”

In the same earnings call, Lynch announced that the number of subscribers to the company’s nascent premium service grew by 63 percent this quarter, and is increasing its efforts to convert users to the ad-free service.

In December of last year, Pandora rolled out a rewarded-ad service, allowing users the ability to “unlock a Pandora Premium listening session” in exchange for watching a video ad.

Despite the company’s push toward a subscription business model, advertisers needn’t be worried: Pandora itself claims that its priority is its ad-funded service.

“If you look at some other services in the market, the ad-funded tier is an entry-level tier designed to transition someone to a subscription tier as quickly as possible,” Picard said. “We’re building a very healthy, sustainable, long-term, ad-funded business.”

Consumers Find Personalized Ads ‘Creepy,’ But Still Want Meaningful Interactions

While most consumers know their online behavior is used to target them with advertisements, it’s not always top of mind—until the barrage of personalized ads come in to serve as a reminder, making viewers feel uncomfortable. But there are clear incentives for marketers to continue walking the razor’s edge between delighting and disturbing audiences to meet the demand for meaningful interactions.

The key is the type of information a brand uses. Private information—such as sexual orientation, political beliefs or sensitive search topics—makes consumers feel as if someone is talking about them behind their back, according to an experiment conducted by the Harvard Business Review. More general information, such as name, general location or shopping history, is deemed less offensive.

Harvard Business Review also found that consumers don’t seem to mind brands collecting information, so long as they maintain a level of transparency. When trust levels were high, disclosing acceptable flows actually boosted click-through rates.

In one part of the experiment, shoppers were told that an advertisement was based on their activity on the site and click-through rates increased by 11 percent. Time spent viewing the advertised product rose by 34 percent and revenue from the product grew by 38 percent as a result of the transparency.

But purchase interest declines when consumers realize that their personal information is flowing in ways they dislike. Consumers felt more confident viewing ads based on information they voluntarily provided either through a form or through activity on the website. When a company claimed to have inferred the information from outside sources, purchase intent dropped 17 percent.

A new study by customer experience (CX) analytics firm InMoment found that at least 75 percent of consumers surveyed think most forms of ad personalization are at least “somewhat creepy.” And consumers don’t keep this information to themselves: one in five respondents tells friends about marketing experiences that they consider creepy, and one in 10 shares “Big Brother-type experiences” on social media, the study found.

Meanwhile, 40 percent of brands admitted that they commonly use personalization techniques that make consumers feel uncomfortable. This reflects a significant disconnect between what brands and consumers think is an acceptable use of private information—something upcoming GDPR requirements are attempting to fix.

Contrary to what this type of backlash might imply, studies show that consumers prefer their advertising to be custom-tailored, so long as it’s done right. A 2016 study by Adlucent found that 71 percent of consumers prefer this type of treatment, and 44 percent were willing to provide select personal information to receive it. A similar 2018 study by Adobe found that 42 percent of respondents get annoyed when their digital content experience isn’t personalized.

Major ad providers are each addressing the issue of personalization control in different ways. Google recently started offering a way to report an ad for “knowing too much,” as well as the ability to block individual advertisers and specific ads on Google searches, YouTube, Gmail and independent sites.

Amazon is letting brands tap into its recommendation engine technology by offering its own database service called Neptune. Amazon Neptune has been designed to handle billions of relationships and run queries within milliseconds to better understand consumer behavior. Gartner predicts that by 2020, smart personalization engines used to recognize customer intent will enable digital businesses to increase their profits by up to 15 percent.

Spotify closed out 2016 and 2017 with campaigns that highlighted listener statistics in a light-hearted way that felt less weirdly obtrusive and more entertaining.

When Netflix tried to replicate Spotify’s sense of humor, the response was less friendly.

Perhaps the thought of being watched while they binge TV at home is more unsettling than knowing what kind of playlists you create.

Zeality Founder Discusses Opportunities For Brands Through 360-Degree Content

Zeality is a new social engagement and delivery platform for 360-degree video content. The company is already working with brands such as the San Francisco 49ers, Visa, RYOT News, and Reebok to leverage this new medium. Zeality is also open to content creators and producers interested in telling 360-degree stories and monetizing their content. The platform is currently available for iOS and Android virtual reality devices, including Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR.

The company has been formed with a team of veterans from Silicon Valley, Hollywood and the ad business. And its advisory board is filled with executives from these three industries, as well. Zeality co-founder and CEO Dipak M. Patel explains how his company can help brands navigate the new 360-degree waters in this exclusive interview.

What separates Zeality from Wistia 360, Facebook 360, YouTube 360, and other platforms?

We see content and media becoming increasingly instrumental in the way we teach, entertain and discover. As a result, user experiences need to evolve, with relevant content being presented in a more intelligent way. Over time, we’re looking to differentiate how a user experiences 360 content, not just deliver it to them. We have a lot coming down the road, however what’s available now is the ability for creators to gate access to their content with customized access levels. For example, for episodic content, let’s say a user can’t access Episode 2 unless they watch Episode 1, and they can’t watch Episode 3 unless they recommend four friends. We can, and will, work with partners to customize how their fans and audiences activate content.

How are you working with early clients like Visa, the San Francisco 49ers, RYOT News, and Reebok with 360-degree video content?

Beyond simply hosting and delivering content, we’re playing an active role in programming our experience and marketing partner content to specific communities. Our goal is to work with our partners to develop marketing campaigns for their content to drive activation, as we want to help create awareness for campaigns versus just being a big bucket in the sky. For example, we have worked with Visa, RYOT, and the San Francisco 49ers to develop social campaigns to drive their fans and audiences to their respective channels on Zeality.

What kind of engagement do you see for 360-degree content versus traditional video?

Zeality only carries 360-degree content, but in comparing 360-degree versus traditional video, we’ve observed both amazement and frustration when users consume 360-degree content. The amazement comes from the fact that it’s new and cool, and then users start genuinely wondering how it’s done. It quickly becomes frustrating because consumers have been trained to be “directed,” versus going on self-guided tours of videos. We see this new type of content disrupting the art of storytelling and the mode of consuming. Both need to learn from each other, and it’s going to take time for 360-degree video to become interesting enough to hold the attention of consumers versus traditional video.

Will your platform support PC and PlayStation VR headsets beyond the Android and iOS mobile VR?

We’re big fans of 360-degree video, VR, and AR. And yes, our roadmap will eventually support a variety of HMDs (head-mounted displays). We feel there’s a lot of work still left to do in creating awareness for 360-degree experiences and how to create them, so one of our directives is to increase education and discovery, and also help build a strong community of content creators.

Most people are still viewing 360-degree content on tablets and 2D devices. How do you see that evolving over time?

When my 7-year-old daughter was 2, she would walk up to our television and try to swipe as if it were an iPad. Now my 2-year-old son holds my phone and moves it around as if every video is a window to another place. Without a doubt, I do see this evolving over time. I think adoption will occur over generations and be influenced by technology innovation. This is why we’re so focused on the art of storytelling and engagement in this new medium.

What are the opportunities in 360-degree video today?

We think there is a tremendous opportunity for 360-degree video today. Education, entertainment, sports media, travel, social impact, and news to start, but more categories will most certainly appear. These are all opportunities to explore the medium as an art form and build a deeper relationship between the stories and communities. And of course, some folks will focus on videos of cats, or the current version of them.

What are the challenges, especially with editing this content?

There are two new elements to the workflow: data management/syncing and stitching. This adds a tremendous burden on quick turnaround projects not only from a time and cost perspective, but also a go-to-market perspective. Luckily, there are a handful of companies—Nokia, Orah, and Sphericam are a few great examples—that are solving these issues by consolidating features in new cameras. I believe that over time, possibly as early as the next few months, these tools will get better.

How is your company bridging the gap between Silicon Valley and Hollywood?

I believe that we’re experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime disruption, and we have an opportunity to create a whole new type of company. Many would agree that over the years, Silicon Valley and Hollywood have been at odds with each other, essentially because one values technology and innovation while the other values content and creativity. Furthermore, the fundamental investment vehicles and ecosystems that support both are completely different. For example, Silicon Valley invests in stock and increasing the value of that stock. Hollywood invests in rights and distribution, and creates companies to capture revenue from licensing and other means. For Zeality, we want to bring these forces together to create the ultimate collaboration between creative/content and tech/innovation in terms of culture, product development and go-to-market.

How will the new wave of both professional and consumer 360 cameras impact this ecosystem?

The new wave of professional and consumer 360-degree cameras are going to have an incredible impact on the ecosystem, but ultimately, the medium requires the storytellers to start from the ground up. They’re not filming in a frame and they have to re-imagine the role of the protagonist in these stories. From a professional storytelling perspective, I’m a big fan of what Sphericam, Orah, and Nokia are doing. For the more user-generated stuff, I think you’re going to see a larger variety of options out there, but regardless of what sort of equipment they use, it will be great to see what sort of content is created when the creator is unencumbered by existing film-making norms. Whatever happens, it’s great to have all these options available to aspiring and professional content creators.