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Automatic success? Robots as heroes in brand storytelling
Communications – PR, Social Media, Content Tools 4 April 2019

Automatic success? Robots as heroes in brand storytelling

It is always exciting to observe how books and movies seem to become more and more topical over time. One of these cases and at the same time one of my personal favourites is “Bicentennial Man” with the legendary Robin Williams. An android, actually designed as a domestic helper, stands out due to his system-defying behaviour, such as creativity. He takes us along on a search for the question what it actually means to be a human being.

Roboter als Helden, Maschine spielt Klavier
Quelle: Unsplash

When watching such movies in the context of today’s development it almost seems as if you have already arrived in the future. Chat bots help with service questions in customer support, Alexa is entrusted with the shopping list and a humanoid robot conductor is already appearing in Düsseldorf’s Robert Schuhmann Hall. But robots and androids have not only arrived in day to day life. In advertising campaigns and brand storytelling you encounter more and more “machine people” as protagonists. By highlighting the difference to robots, brands show the most beautiful aspects of being human in an increasingly digitalized world, but also how we have to responsibly deal with our own creation. Here are three campaigns where robots as storytelling heroes showcase how this can be implemented in the world of advertising. They prove that they can safely position themselves in the current discourse around AI and the question of the humanization of robots.

Kohler: Sanitary systems from the future

Forgetting the host’s name, laughing at the wrong time or moving on the dancefloor without any sense of rhythm. One or the other can probably identify with the socialisation problems of the androids in this Kohler advertisement from 2016. However, the robots are quite confident when they discover the host’s new toilet. The lavatory attracts the attention of the electric guests. Apparently, they are not aware that one is preferably alone in this exact room as they let the host take precedence when using it. With wit and charm Kohler shows that life with robots and AIs hast its pitfalls. Not only does relevant information has to be processed in the daily life, but also social manners and conventions have to be mastered. But progress is coming, one way or another. The only question is how people and above all companies will deal with it.

TurboTax: The beauty of possibilities

Psychologically, TurboTax goes a lot deeper with its campaign for the TurboTax Live CPAs: employees that help you with your tax return via video chat. Like every human child, the “RoboChild” in the 45 seconds commercial is asked what it wants to be when it grows up. But its big dream to become a Live CPA and as such help people with their tax return will probably never come true. That is because the tax consulting assistants at this company will always be real people.

Metaphorically well transferred, TurboTax shows that the technology is still stuck in its infancy in some aspects. Maybe someday the android child can be everything it wants to be. But for now, the adults, i.e. the real people, are still taking on the important jobs. The critics’ opinions on the advertisement were mixed, for instance because the robot falls into the so-called uncanny valley. However, the company takes away the fear of a takeover by the machines. Instead it emphasizes that it is still us who produced this technology.

Oxford: Never give up

With its 2:25 minutes, the spot of the stationery manufacturer Oxford can certainly not be described as short and simple. But the story told in the clip is more than worth the time. The small robot faces the same problems as most human children at school. He wants to belong to a group and be able to do everything the others do. Night-long hand studies, exercises and countless unsuccessful attempts pay off in the end: he learns the complicated handshake of his classmates and can score points with them. With the slogan “Never give up” the manufacturer of exercise books shows the importance of holding on to one’s goals. By building the story around a humanoid robot, it is made clear that you can do anything even with difficult starting conditions. At the same time, it is in a similar notch as TurboTax: as the “parents” of technology the responsibility lies with us and we continue to have the upper hand.

Bottom line

Will computers replace us at the workplace in the future? Do we eventually lose control over the machines? And what about man’s identity when its own creation becomes more and more like him? Not only science has to face these big questions, but also companies that conduct research in this field or whose industry is affected by the profound upheaval of advancing technology.

Robots as heroes in brand storytelling could help to put technology into perspective in front of an unsettled public and take away people’s fear of digital evolution. At the same time, companies demonstrate their zeitgeist with such campaigns, charge their own products emotionally in an increasingly cold, technical world and connect them with exactly those aspects that technology cannot reach yet.

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