Yearly Archives: 2013

Rachel Tyrell Gets a Job

Premier Health Plans, a a health insurance broker, employs a rather elaborate chat bot to collect a customer’s basic information and interests before sending the potential customer to a real person to close the deal. It’s really a clever chat bot, but the odd thing about it is that it insists that it’s a real person. Clearly someone at Premier Health Plans, thought that a chat bot made good business sense, but at the same time didn’t think it was quite convincing, so they added in scripts to respond to questions like, “Are you a robot?”, with the idea that if they just deny it, that would placate enough curiosity and automaton-phobia to hold a potential customer on the line long enough to close.

Think about this for a second. At some point there was a discussion that went something like:

Analyst: In order to get n conversions per day, we need x telemarketers, which costs y dollars.
Manager: Hmm, y is a lot of dollars, and that initial part of the conversation is where we lose most of customers. What can we do bring down this cost?
Analyst: What if we used a robot?
Manager: Not a phone tree. I hate those press-one-for-English type things.
Analyst: No a really smart robot, like Siri.
Manager: Yeah, a sexy robot, like Siri, but it would have to be smart. Can we make it smart?
Analyst: That can be done, and it would only cost z dollars, which is much less than y dollars.
Manager: Good. Good. Let’s do it.
Analyst: I just thought of something. You know how people don’t like to leave voicemails, or deal with phone trees. What if they don’t like the robot?
Manager: Well, we’ll just have robot lie.

Sadly, the phone number and website, premierhealthagency.com are now disabled.

Emergent Pong

At SIGGRAPH91, graphics researcher and digital artist Loren Carpenter stood near the front of an 5000 seat auditorium in a Las Vegas hotel. In the seats in front of him, the attendees held cardboard paddles, one side of which was red, the other green. Behind him was a giant screen covered in blinking and shifting red and green dots. After a few moments, the audience figured out what Loren already knew. A camera was trained on the auditorium and was feeding images into a computer that then displayed the color and polishing of every paddle in the room. The audience cheered and began to wave back and forth in unison.

The screen changed to classic video game Pong. The only difference was that instead of all white paddles, the paddles were two-toned, with a green upper half, and a red lower half. Loren took the stage and addressed the crowd. “Okay guys. Folks on the left side of the auditorium control the left paddle. Folks on the right side control the right paddle. If you think you are on the left, then you really are. Okay? Go!”

The ball began to move across the screen and the paddles twitched to life. The paddles move to a height calculated from the relative number of red and green paddles. If everyone shows the same color, then the paddle will move to either the extreme top or the extreme bottom. However, if some show the opposite color, then paddle will stop somewhere in the middle. Surprisingly quickly, the crowd began to play effectively, even when the speed of the ball increased.

The Most Bizarre Event in Advertising History

I present to you, the 1991 Clio Awards.

Attendees who had paid the $125 admission price did not have tickets waiting at the door, as promised. Also missing were any Clio officials and Clio President Bill Evans. The event did not start on time; in fact, people stood around drinking, schmoozing, and trading rumors about Evans and the Clio organization for over two hours. Finally, the lights dimmed and the band started playing. A man walked up to the microphone and began to speak. He identified himself as the caterer and announced that the master of ceremonies was a no-show, but that he would give it a shot. It started out well, but after being informed that there was no script and no winners list, he gave up and walked off. A second fellow walked onstage and began talking, but was not a polished speaker; it was obvious that he was inebriated. Print ads were the first awards, and there were transparencies of the winning entries. As each image appeared on screen, the owner of the work was asked to come to the stage, pick up their Clio, and identify themselves and their agency. When the last award in the category was dispensed, the band began playing an interlude, and the emcee began singing. The audience began booing and throwing dinner rolls, and the drunk staggered offstage. Several minutes passed, but no one took his place. As the people began to leave, one man mounted the stage, strode to the table of remaining statuettes, snatched one up, and waved it as he left the stage. Two other individuals claimed their own awards; then suddenly, the stage was stampeded by a feeding frenzy of advertising executives, intent on the Clios that remained.

The event for television commercials, scheduled a few days later, was called off when the Clio Company didn’t come up with cash for the facility’s deposit.

The story behind the 1991 fiasco slowly emerged. Bill Evans began to delegate all responsibility for the Clios to his 11-person Clio staff in 1989. Although he had stopped coming to the office, he continued to spend money at an alarming rate. Bills weren’t being paid, and Evans would not return phone calls from the Clio office. Privately, the staff was worried about Evans’ alleged drug addiction. He was offered loans if he would surrender financial control of the Clios, but he refused. After 3 people were arrested at Evans’ home on drug charges, drug rumors escalated. At the end of April 1991, the Clio Company was broke. After going unpaid for most of May, the staff, which included Evans’ daughter, walked out.