Best Western demonstrates power of AI in advertising

Harnessing the power of AI, Best Western engaged customers in the highly-competitive travel market.
2 August 2019

The Best Western Hotel chain. Source: Shutterstock

Artificial intelligence (AI) can be applied to many things; supply chain, data protection, law enforcement— you name it, there’s an application for it.

Today, brands are even incorporating AI in advertising, as they turn to advanced technology to cut through the digital marketing noise, putting their brand in a unique and innovative light to stand out among their target audience.

Best Western is one brand that’s turning to AI in advertising in order to “beat the odds” in the competitive online travel market, where brands struggle to keep people’s attention and keep head and shoulders above the fierce competition.

As reported by Business Insider, the Phoenix-headquartered hotel chain has turned to IBM Watson’s AI technology in order to target hyper-personalized travel ads and recommendations, and the results are “crushing the industry average”.

Advertising in the travel industry

In any sector, online advertising is a tough and expensive gig— Google serves an average of 30 billion ads globally each day, so brands putting their name and wares out there are competing for ever-dwindling user attention which is being constantly pummelled by imagery, offers, and calls to action.

In the travel industry, seasonal peaks and the promise of big-ticket sales means thousands of tour agencies, airlines and hotel chains are vying for customers’ attention. Meanwhile, customers visit travel sites 38 times in the 45 days before making a reservation, according to Expedia, meaning they’ll face a non-stop bombardment of offers.

However, getting a user’s attention isn’t enough; a full-page banner may get that, but a personalized recommendation that provides some value could, if successful, get their focused engagement and interest.

IBM Watson AI in advertising

That was the thinking behind Best Western’s use of AI. IBM Watson was able to analyze user behavior data to produce insights, so the hotel chain could deliver more engaging advertising to its potential userbase.

Engagement and interaction with the customer was a crucial goal for the campaign. The ads it targeted invited users to start a conversation around their current or upcoming travel plans.

By interpreting their response, the ad could return AI-driven suggestions on how they could get the best experience from their vacation, and take advantage of Best Western locations across North America.

As a result, customers spent twice as much time engaging with these ads compared to others.

“Travel is on the bleeding edge of customers’ digital experience,” said Best Western CMO Dorothy Dowling. “So travel has been on the forefront of digital innovation. This is a dynamic ad unit that provides much more personalization.

“In travel, people are shopping longer and even after they purchase,” Dowling said. “So we’re going for engagement and getting them to purchase, but also to make sure they don’t cancel and then repurchase somewhere else. We’re really on a journey to know our customers better.”

It’s not the first time Best Western has used AI in its advertising, Dowling told BI. Last year, it ran ads that offered discounts and tips to questions such as ‘Can I stay at the beach?’. It found customers would spend two minutes on average engaging with the interactive placements, twice as long as other IBM Watson advertising clients had managed.

The hotel company was able to use data from this campaign to enhance its most recent efforts.

AI in advertising still nascent

Despite the obvious benefit, using AI for marketing and advertising is still in its infant stages, providing big opportunities for early investors to stand out against their rivals. 

As reported by Sojern, a travel advertising company, personalized ads and real-time offers as the top challenge for marketers surveyed, cited by 46 percent of the respondents.

Best Western’s ads solved that challenge, providing a personalized touch to what would otherwise seem like just another ad served, by making them interactive and actually beneficial. 

But while uptake may be gradual, tech giants have identified the growing role AI will have in the advertising industry.

Google, which has long been a leader in offering machine learning tools at scale, offers customers AI-powered ads to run more effective, optimized campaigns. The tools enhance ad campaigns across its Search, YouTube, and Google Maps properties, and will contribute to it surpassing the US$21.4 billion in ad revenue it generated in Q1 2018.

Creativity has always been at the heart of successful advertising, but that doesn’t just mean original creative— in the noisy, blinding world of online advertising, creativity can mean thinking of new ways to engage an otherwise blinkered audience, convincing them as individual people of the value your brand can provide.

AI will become more accessible to advertisers in the coming years, and it will also become much more advanced— fundamentally, the more data it gathers and processes, the better it becomes.

As programs learn more about specific campaigns and their target customers, they will become more adept at making their ads hit home and drive the desired actions— they could even learn how to tweak creative for individuals, or set up and optimize the most-effective and efficient campaign from start to finish.

In November last year, IBM Watson wrote an entire script of a video advertisement for Japanese carmaker Lexus. AI was trained with 15 years of award-winning luxury adverts, emotionally-stimulating narratives, and imagery, and commissioned research into human intuition.

If AI can do that, and more – it’s time for us to start using AI-driven ads to conquer customers, sales targets, and the awards show.