NatGeo And 360i Show The ‘Genius’ Of Using Chatbots As A Marketing Tool

To promote the NatGeo TV series celebrating Albert Einstein, 360i created an a chatbot version of the great physicist to converse with people on Facebook.

On Saturday, April 22, National Geographic worked with interactive agency 360i to bring Albert Einstein back to life as a Facebook Messenger chatbot — dubbed “Genius,” naturally — to highlight its new cable TV series Genius.

The chatbot also coincided with the Earth Day event, The March for Science. As a part of its support of the March, NatGeo also created a free, branded wi-fi network and a recharging tent for marchers.

Ultimately, as the role of chatbots and voice-activated digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft Cortana begin to be employed to provide one-to-one direct, real-world connections between consumers and brands, we checked in with Layne Harris, 360i’s VP, Head of Innovation Technology, on where these tools go from here.

GeoMarketing: What’s the goal and premise of the NatGeo campaign and how did you decide to employ a chatbot?

Layne Harris: The goal of the NatGeo campaign was twofold. First, to re-introduce audiences to the 20th century’s favorite genius via means that would celebrate Einstein’s lesser known qualities and stories. The Genius series focuses on the multi-facets of his life, including his many love affairs and altercations with authority, so it was important to bring that element of the show to life through the campaign. Secondly, the campaign aimed to support the March for Science in a way that was authentic to Einstein himself. He was a fierce believer in truth, fact and science and surely would have believed in the ideals behind the March and even attended himself were he still alive. We wanted to make sure that marchers felt his support that day.

The chatbot definitely played into both these notions, but rather than having the campaign speak for Einstein, we wanted Einstein to speak for himself. We decided to pursue a conversational chatbot that would feel natural and speak as Einstein would. This provides a more intimate and immersive experience for users to really connect with him one on one and organically discover more content from the show.

One of the ads created by 360i to promote the Einstein series on NatGeo and its accompanying chatbot on FB Messenger

What is the Genius wi-fi network and is it limited to NatGeo and/or this campaign?

At the March for Science, National Geographic offered a free Wi-Fi network for marchers that would unlock after they watched a short clip from the show. Only active for the one day, the network aimed to further support and inspire marchers so they could more easily share the event’s important message and keep them connected amidst a heavy volume of mobile network traffic.

How was the Einstein chatbot developed and what are its instructions/capabilities?

With the NatGeo Genius chatbot we really wanted to bring through the personality of Albert Einstein, as Genius really focuses on the lesser known parts of who he was. We knew that we needed to take a conversational approach, rather than the ‘choose your own adventure’ style that a typical chatbot might utilize. We worked with Imperson, who specializes in conversational chatbots, to craft a myriad of responses that both reflected the voice of Albert Einstein while leveraging Imperson’s AI technology to be contextually relevant to whatever the user was asking at any given moment. The Einstein chatbot understands natural text input and is free flowing, responding based on intent, context and memory.

Is the NatGeo effort 360i’s first use of chatbots? Any other examples?

This is 360i’s first foray into conversational bots, but we have worked with more conventional chatbots for other clients. Conversational chatbots have a unique set of requirements and require more creative content than most other types of chatbots.

Did you formally work with Facebook to use Messenger? How do you regard messenger apps as a marketing platform in general? 

Due to an existing brand presence on the platform and the built-in tools to help promote chatbots we felt that Facebook was a natural partner for this project. We worked directly with Facebook who provided us advice on best practices for this new medium.

 How does 360i view the role of chatbots generally in a marketing/advertising context? 

Messaging, specifically visual messaging, has been growing exponentially in the past two years and chatbots are a great way for brands to be part of these conversations. With chatbots you can have a unique branded messaging experience that feels natural to a fan or frequent user of messaging platforms. There are fantastic examples of brands even starting to migrate their ecommerce functionality into chatbots, providing consumers the same functionality you would find on a full website, but with the added benefit of a more personal experience.

An example of NatGeo’s branded wi-fi experience in action during the March for Science on Earth Day.

What makes it right in this case versus other campaigns/promotions?

Because the show portrays the lesser known aspects of Albert’s personal life, we wanted to create even deeper engagement with potential viewers around this concept. Messaging and chatbots are a much more personal experience than simply watching a video or entering a contest. They appeal to our curious nature and often surprise us with content that we might not expect as consumers. As marketers, we spend a lot of time developing a brand voice and with chatbots we get to really test out that voice and obtain real-time feedback via these two-way conversations. With such a strong personality and known historical significance, Einstein and Genius presented the perfect opportunity to execute a chatbot and have some fun with the content, not only leading up to premiere, but throughout the entire season.

How do you expect use of chatbots, artificial intelligence, and the use of “intelligent agents” like Alexa or Siri or Google Assistant to evolve?

The development of a chatbot is very similar to developing a product for Alexa or Home Assistant, with the big difference being that chatbots can provide the consumer rich media responses such as photos, funny gifs and videos that are not currently possible on the voice-only platforms. For the voice-activated solutions to really compete long term and thrive as a marketing channel, there will likely need to have some sort of cross-platform approach which allows for a visual component as well as voice, which has the advantage of being quieter and less obtrusive than its audio counterpart.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.