Artificial Intelligence Brings New Opportunities to Marketing, Branding and Advertising

January 2018

In 1983, NPR aired its first mention of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) on The Science Report, a then segment on All Things Considered.


For all their speed and sophisticated technology, most computers today are unthinking number crunchers. They manipulate data, analyze experiments and perform long calculations, but do it all by brute force. The overall goal of artificial intelligence has been to make a computer more useful by having it imitate the mental tasks humans do such as reasoning, understanding speech and recognizing faces.
Marla Crockett, The Science Report, 1983


Since then, Artificial Intelligence has been the topic of 500+ NPR radio segments, online news articles and podcast episodes covering the latest advancements and this technology’s widespread impact on everything from space exploration to national security and, of course, day-to-day life.

Today, 35 years since that first radio story, Crockett’s vision of Artificial Intelligence doesn’t seem quite too futuristic. In fact, much of it is quite standard. The new iPhone X has built-in facial recognition technology, and we can speak more conversationally with our home appliances by the day.

This shift has huge implications for brands and publishers both in how they connect with their audiences and how they do their jobs. This was the focus of the 4A’s CreateTech Conference in November, where brands, advertisers and publishers including NPR came together in LA to discuss the impact Artificial Intelligence is having on their work and creativity at large.

86% of marketers believe A.I. makes marketing teams more efficient and more effective, and 79% believe that A.I. makes the marketing function more strategic – eMarketer

Industry leaders broke down the current applications of A.I. in marketing – creating content (including an entire music video), predicting customer journeys and automating processes end to end – as well as the limitations and responsibility that come with this technology.

A.I. & Voice Assistants 

A.I. systems, like those that power Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home devices, are creating more seamless consumer experiences. And as these systems are refined, more and more consumers are finding value in their smart devices. 4% of Americans got their first smart speaker during the 2017 holiday season, bringing current ownership to 16% of households in the U.S. alone. 

Projections for wider adoption and application of these systems indicate they’re here to stay.  The firm Gartner predicts that 75% of U.S. households will have a smart speaker by 2020.

As the voice-activated world becomes a reality for more people today, publishers, agencies, brands and consumers are adapting to a future where devices such as Google Home and Alexa-enabled speakers are a primary platform for content consumption and commerce, and a must-have resource in the home. In fact, 42% of current smart speaker owners say their voice-activated devices are essential to their everyday lives, and 65% say they wouldn’t want to go back to life without one (The Smart Audio Report).

“We can’t overstate the importance of this moment of time. All of a sudden tens of millions of new ‘radios’ have shown up in people’s homes,” said NPR Senior Director of Digital Products Joel Sucherman during a session at CreateTech with Amazon’s Global Head of Alexa Skills Kit Michael Francisco, 360i CMO Abbey Klassan and Edison Research VP of Strategy Tom Webster.

As Sucherman explained, NPR has been early mover in the smart speaker category – research, digital development, programming – and has a leading presence on the Alexa platform as well as with Google Home, Microsoft Cortana and other movers in the category. Now, his team is focusing on strategies for atomizing content –  working to build more connections between NPR stories, interviews and show episodes to facilitate discovery and learning – all with natural, colloquial vocal queues.

Branded Experiences on Smart Speakers

Another key area: Opportunities for NPR sponsors. As an organization built around audio, voice has always been a primary element of brand creative across NPR platforms. Today, NPR’s sponsorship team at National Public Media is working with brands and agencies to help share insight and learnings about the smart speaker audience, user behavior and where brands are finding success in connecting on this platform. And also to help amplify branded experiences on a platform where discovery can be a challenge. 

Peppercorn Media worked with NPR to promote their new “Word of the Day Quiz” Alexa Skill to people while they were actively using the device to listen to the NPR Flash Briefing. Within the first week, more than 10K people responded to the promo to immediately play the quiz. That’s a 5.5% conversation rate. And the audience stuck around: The following week, the Skill saw an increase of 3K more users than the week prior.  

NPR is also providing ongoing audience and user behavior research in partnership with Edison Research. Get the latest findings from The Smart Audio Report here, and find more on our sponsorship offerings across smart speakers here.

A Future of A.I.
From voice-activated skills to personal assistants that can manage texts and calendars to facial recognition, computers have become so much more than the "unthinking number crunchers" of the 1980s. In the coming years, this platform is sure to continue its steady growth, enabling even more opportunities for marketers, advertisers and publishers in this space – taking your brand to the next level of audio integration. 

Bonus: More A.I. Coverage from NPR. Find a special collection of NPR stories about A.I. in NPR One inspired by CreateTech.