News & Views

Rosetta and Alexa

by Contagious Team

Jana Borges, president and director of content in Contagious' São Paulo office, on why Amazon's Echo needs to focus on the brand's core business, rather than impress with technology

And so, human race, we did it. We landed on a comet.

I got really excited and anxious about it because… OMFG! It’s a comet! I’m here building keynote presentations, writing papers and reading gossip while some guys, as human as me, created a machine to land on a comet! This is pretty awesome, isn’t it!?!

But after five minutes of ‘OMFG we landed on a comet’, there was not much else I could do. Why? Because besides being (briefly) bloody exciting, landing on a comet will not change a thing in my life. I don’t even have an ET to hang out with.

This reminds me about how our industry is approaching communication and innovation. OMFG! We are so great at creating amazing stuff that no one outside La Croisette/Madison Avenue/ Vila Madalena (in Brazil) cares about. We are so eagerly going after the latest technology that consumer needs and brand challenges are being left behind.

(But, Aerospace Engineers, please don’t get me wrong. I'm not saying you don’t deserve a Gold Lion. It’s just that in our industry, things are a little bit different. Please keep landing on stars and comets and don’t go near that black hole.)

Our industry is about connecting people to brands, solving business challenges, making business bigger. Advertising exists for that. This is our raison d'être.

And because of that I say: do not get distracted by technology. If there isn’t a good story, no fireworks, drone, beacon or comet landing will make it interesting. Technology must serve the idea, not the opposite.

An interesting example of a brand's use of technology is the recently launched Echo, by Amazon (or should we call her Alexa?). It’s a cylindrical speaker that’s controlled by your voice or anyone in your family. It hooks up to the cloud, can play music, answer basic questions and add items to a shopping list.

No one knows if Echo will succeed. But no one can argue that it’s not deeply connected to what Amazon is as a brand. The core value of this brand is to streamline the purchase in every way possible. As Steve Beck of management consultancy firm cg42 said: ‘Echo could take Amazon from one-click purchase to no-click purchase, creating the ultimate in-home impulse purchase engine.’

And what about the consumer? If it can really get rid of shopping lists, queues, delivery timings, price comparison, etc, I’ll marry you Alexa!

But, Alexa seems to have a way to go before it reaches its objective. The benefit for the consumer is not clear – not yet at least. Talking with a machine about the height of Mt Everest might be a fun thing to do; but it's as ephemeral as my excitement about the comet landing. Will anyone leave his or her bedroom to go to the kitchen and ask Alexa something instead of using their phone? Siri is always in my pocket, for example.

The add-ons, like playing music, answering basic questions, being able to recognize its own name, etc, are distractions that get in the way of what really matters. It blurs Echo’s real relevance, which is streamlining stupid purchases that you're not emotionally involved in. Amazon should stick to this sweet spot between what the brand can offer and what people really need.

It's common to see brands doing stuff just because they can. So, yes, we can make this cylindrical robot search for facts on Google. But why should we? Is there any real need for that? Is there a gap in search that Alexa is now covering? Is Amazon's core business to make search experience on Google better? If not, don’t do it!

In this new fantastic world of technology and possibilities, we need to learn to “desapegar”. Desapegar is a great word: a mix of detach and let go. Think about who will use your product, not your technical capabilities. Serve your customers, not your ego. Desapega!

Focus on what you can do that matters to me. Perhaps, one day soon, I’ll never run out of toilet paper, water or cat food again. Maybe I will even have cake flour delivered to my door only 10 minutes after hearing friends are coming for tea. This would be awesome, Alexa.

But so far, your ability to tell me the height of Mount Everest does not grab me. Not even for five minutes. For this kinda of dazzle I will stick with comet landings. Go Rosetta!