AI and your brand world: how Pinterest, Amazon and Virgin are using the tech

Is there any brand that hasn’t yet tried to jump on the generative AI train? Probably not – but some have been more successful than others. Amplify’s Rachel Matovu looks at the best early movers.

Published by: The Drum
Written by: Rachel Matovu
Date: 13/07/2023

When G-Chat started to suggest replies to messages and Gmail started trying to finish my sentences, I felt like that Fry/Futurama meme (very unsure; slightly suspicious).

Like many others, I hadn’t taken much notice of AI beyond awkwardly talking to my Google Assistant. Now, AI has been everywhere for a while.

Whether it’s our emails, entertainment recommendations, voice-activated remote controls, or navigation sensors in cars, we use so many products with AI features without even thinking about it.

AI has been quietly impacting the average consumer’s life since further back than we think, but 2023 is its mainstream breakout year. Everyone is talking about the good, the bad and the eerie.

What sparked it all was OpenAI’s ChatGPT launch at the end of 2022. It made headlines for its humanlike responses, and triggered a rush of new users, making it the fastest app ever to reach 100 million users (until Instagram’s Threads took the title just a few days ago).

Originally feeling like a very abstract, sci-fi thing, consumers are now wrestling with AI’s prevalence. Many say they fear and distrust AI, which is forcing brands to weigh up the role it can play (or not) in their brand worlds.

Silently solving problems: Pinterest and Cleo

Although the growing fears around AI are very real, many consumers do believe AI that will make life better, save time, and take mundane tasks off their hands. Where brands have found success with AI is doing just that: creating convenience for consumers, and quietly making things better and easier.

Take Pinterest for instance. The platform recognizes the costs and benefits of AI to users, and is striving to be more deliberate about how it uses the technology. Chief executive Bill Ready talks about AI being “additive to people’s lives, not addictive”, a clear recognition of the challenges social media algorithms have created.

This problem-solving approach is consistent with some of Pinterest’s previous AI features, like the inclusive virtual try-on which enables users to select make-up based on their skin tone. But people don’t necessarily go to Pinterest because of its AI capabilities; they go because it feels like a more positive experience that’s relevant to them.

Another example that stands out (perhaps because it acknowledges my own bad habits) is UK-based fintech app Cleo. Cleo recognized that people need motivation when it comes to money, so it introduced a chatbot designed to provide budgeting assistance.

If a user feels they need some tough love, all they have to do is tell Cleo to ‘roast’ them, and the bot will take a long hard look at all the careless spending they may have done recently. If they need to be ‘hyped’ up, it will remind the user of all their better budgeting moments.

Users trust Cleo because it tells them like it is; the brand understands their needs and uses AI to do the heavy lifting in the background.

Moving AI into the spotlight: Amazon and Virgin

We’re seeing AI reinvent how brands ‘connect’ with people. We’ve already seen, for example, a surge in dating apps using AI messaging, reinvigorating how people find and chat to each other online.

Whether it's consumers talking to AI or AI talking for your brand, the tech starts to play a bigger role in the spotlight. This shift means that humanizing the technology becomes even more important to build trust with audiences.

This is something Amazon recognized with its Alexa campaigns early on. It uses celebrities like Hollywood heart-throb Michael B Jordan, who fronted its 2021 Super Bowl commercial. The actor personified the smart assistant, giving it a (not so average) physical form that people could feel excited to ‘talk’ to.

Virgin also recently introduced Jen AI, the AI voice of its Virgin Voyager cruise line – played by icon Jennifer Lopez. In its launch film, AI is a character represented by J.Lo with an ensemble of human counterparts. It’s both self-aware and honest, showing a playful side to AI’s role in the consumer experience and adding new dimensions to the product story.

Beyond the hype

As exciting as the conversation around AI is, brands need to be mindful not to fall into the hype without establishing the story they want to tell.

While there are growing opportunities for AI to move into the foreground of brands’ stories, helping to solve real consumer problems will be crucial to create real connections.

Rather than letting AI take over, brands should speak to its unique benefit. For some, it will be a silent partner. For others, it plays a starring role with its own personality.

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