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Advertising Will Never Be The Same

Picture of Bob Cuneo, Chief Insight Officer

Bob Cuneo, Chief Insight Officer

Early in his career, Bob Cuneo was an Executive Creative Director in the ad agency world. He won creative awards for numerous brands, including Budweiser, Michelob, Skittles, Wear-Dated Carpet, and Puppy Chow. In 1996, he started his own ad agency, Brado Cuneo. Believing that most research approaches stymied creativity versus inspiring it, Brado began to focus on strategic research. Today, Brado is a nationally recognized, insight-driven strategic marketing agency that exists to inspire the ideas and relationships that transform lives.

Learn how conversational AI can help your brand connect and build trust with your customers.

The greatest change in advertising since television is happening. Here’s why: If a person talked to you the way many brands do — constantly interrupting and boasting about how great they are — would you want a relationship with them?

Real relationships necessitate two-way engagement. They require listening and empathy. They require real conversations.

Enter conversational AI.

For the first time, brands can have genuine, two-way conversations with their customers. Instead of hoping customers will click on ads, brands can connect with people on their terms, provide education, support, and resources to build the trust brands need to thrive. Brands can have ongoing conversations with customers in the most important moments in their lives.

These critical conversations will generate unrivaled customer experiences. Conversational engagement will change the way brands acquire and retain customers in ways traditional and digital advertising cannot.

I had a great opportunity to talk at TechSTL about the profound impact AI is having on advertising and how it can drive better customer engagement for brands.

In This Presentation You’ll Learn:

00:00: Why advertising hasn’t traditionally built trust with customers. 

05:07: Why digital advertising is a great promise not kept. 

08:00: What it would feel like if a person talked to you like most brands do. 

10:25: What conversational AI means for brands.  

12:46: Why the healthcare industry needs conversational AI. 

14:45: How Brado and Bon Secours Mercy Health partnered to build a conversational engagement platform. 

17:44: Why the best conversational platforms are built on insight. 

25:00: What people are asking about adopting conversational AI. (Speech Q&A) 


(Edited for clarity)


Advertising is never going to be the same.

It's not just because the AI is going to draw the images, or the AI is going to break cogs. That's not why.

Do you remember this 1995 Super-Bowl-winning ad?

[1995 Super Bowl Commercial “Bud” “Weis” “Er”]

We still all remember it, right? The guys at Anheuser-Busch Corporation (ABC) started something quite new. They said: We think advertising should be all about talk value.

The goal when you worked for Anheuser-Busch was to see if you could create a commercial. (By the way, that's not mine. That's Mike Smith and Dave Swain.)

The goal was to get people talking about your advertising the next day.

We wanted people to talk about it. Here's the issue. Yeah, they talked about it, but Budweiser sales were in decline when this ad came out. And then the big “Wassup” campaign came after that. And, you know that they were not only in decline for this campaign; they stayed in decline after this campaign. So, while talk value was a wonderful idea, I think what we all learned is that it was kind of the cost of entry into advertising.

In other words, you have to be creative. That's part of the gig, right? So, let's talk a little bit like, well, why do you advertise? Almost everybody would agree it's to generate revenue to get somebody to buy your product, see your product, love your service. That's usually it. But the reality is, you're trying to create a relationship with your customer — trying to build trust.

Our trust has dropped to an all new low if you look at the Edelman studies that are out now. I mean, nobody trusts anybody anymore. We don't trust the media. We don't trust the clergy. We don't trust. I'm starting to wonder if we trust our friends. That's how bad trust has gotten in the United States and actually globally.

So, we decided along the way to try something called cause marketing, and that made sense because that got us closer to our customers. Right. Let's fight for a cause. Let's see if you remember this.

[Dawn ‘Wildlife’ Campaign: “Cleaning Oil Spills” Ad]

And that is really great if you agree with the cause. By the way, I think we buy Dawn. I think we do buy it because we do agree with its cause. It's cool, you know? But not everybody does. And not everybody thinks it's worth it. Right?

So, then the next wave was a little different. And in my mind, it was sort of brought on by Simon Sinek, who said, “People don't buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” My gosh, that made so much sense to me. Right?

It's all about, why does your brand exist? What's the purpose? What is your brand? And so, we went into something called brand purpose. And boy, we're seeing that today, right? Like with Microsoft: “Empower every person in every organization on the planet to achieve more.” That's our humble purpose. How about, “Through sport, we have the power to change lives. We’ll always strive to expand the limits of human possibilities.” And I like Google's to “organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and usable.”

Those are very admirable purposes, right? It's a big deal. But then in 2013, which now sounds forever ago, but it was kind of just a blink, really, if you think about it, in time. In 2013, the whole world was digital.


All the advertising became digital. All our clients — Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Purina — you know what they do? They all say, we have to have our digital campaign first. You can come up with that big TV campaign, but I need to know how you're handling this digital thing first. And that changed the world. Amazon did a really great job of describing why this is so impressive.

They said, “Digital marketing allows you to meet audiences where they are. People make decisions about goods and services they buy at all times of day during all kinds of activities. With digital ads, you can reach audiences when they’re browsing online for products to buy.” And that was going to be the game changer.

But it was a great promise, not kept. And here's why, because everybody said, this is going to save us in advertising. It's going to save us. Well, it's not. Here's why. Because all of these efforts, whether it's digital advertising or traditional advertising, they have one huge flaw.

And here's the flaw. The flaw is the interruption. They all rely on you being interrupted by their message. And digital was supposed to get past that because you're searching where you want to be.

It doesn't. You’ve still got to shout at the person. You still have to interrupt them. And I don't know about you, but I don't know what kind of relationship can survive constant interruption. I don't think you can keep going, “Hey, how are you? Let's talk.” I don't think you can do that. No, I will say I have a three-year-old granddaughter, and it is constant interruption. And you know what? It works for her, but it doesn't work for advertising. Not in my life.

Look at this. I found this the other day. This is going to change how I talk to people. Ready? “Interrupting implies that you deem your words more worthy than the remainder of what another person has to say. You appear uncontrollable. People will view you as not having self-discipline to avoid being rude and egotistical.”

Is that going to change your conversation later today? I think so. I read that, and I’ve got to listen. I'm going to pay a little more attention to what people are talking about right now. But brand advertising has always been self-serving. It's always like chest pounding. “Look at me. Look at me.”

I will tell you this: If you have to tell someone you're classy, you're not. That's just the facts.


Yeah, that's me. And that's my beautiful wife many years ago. So, I will tell you a story. Just imagine if I saw this beautiful person in a bar many years ago, and I walked up to her and I said, “Hi, my name is Bob Cuneo. I own my own ad agency. I drive a nice car. I make pretty good money. I’ve still got all my hair. How about you give me your phone number and I'll take you out one night?”

And she would say, “You're a creep. Get out of here.” Right?

But what if I had said, “Hey, your name is Betsy, right? And we have a friend, Jamie, and she told me that you love to go hiking. You love to ride bikes. And you love to drink wine. And not always in that order. And how about I give you my phone number? And one day, when you're up for it, come on, let's go to lunch.” And then we'd have a few kids, and it would be like 20, 30 years later.

And here we would be. Right?

And that's how a relationship works. Because a relationship is a two-way engagement. It takes two. You both got to be into it, right? Relationships require empathy. They require your ability to understand what another person feels. It's so important in a relationship, right? Relationships require real conversations.

I love this. It's not the kind of conversation you have on a cruise ship. It's the kind of conversation you have on a lifeboat that's a relationship. It's a lifeboat conversation. It's a lifetime of lifeboat conversations. Right?


Well, we've entered the age of conversational AI. Ask any magazine. Ask any night on the news. It's why we're here today, right? We have entered that age. Generative AI could change everything, right? Because it's going to form conversations.

And we strongly believe that conversational AI will facilitate real conversations. And it's going to change advertising forever. Bill Gates was speaking recently, and he said that Amazon and Google — I love when he says that because he can say what no one else can — Amazon and Google are facing a major threat, he said. And whoever is going to win the race will do so by developing a personal digital assistant.

That sounds pretty cool. Gates said that people with access to this assistant won't ever have to search sites again. They just won't go to a productivity site. They’ll never go to Amazon again. Wow. I wonder what Bezos thinks of that; I would have liked to have been in that room. So conversational AI is going to completely change how we connect with our customers.

It's going to create something we're calling conversational engagement. It really changes things, right? Because with conversational engagement, you're going to have the ability to have genuine, ongoing two-way conversations in those moments that matter most in someone's life. That's what you get to do. Conversational engagement. Here's the trick, though. It's going to force marketers to change their approach.

And this is going to be hard for people because we like talking about ourselves. I like talking about myself. It's what we like to do. Right? So, brands, in a a true relationship, they're going to have to offer something. They're going to have to offer something much more tangible to their customers. And it's going to have to be more than a product.

It's going to have to be more than their purpose, right? They're going to have to give something back, which is what relationships are.


And nowhere is this more needed than in healthcare. Do you know there are 1 billion healthcare-related searches a day on Google in the United States?

Well, how about that? Is that nuts? That's a crazy thought. That means every one of you had three healthcare-related searches today. Pretty much. That is amazing because that's just among the adults.

I'm assuming the 8-year-olds aren't searching healthcare questions. Right. So that isn't a crazy thought. So, what if we could use AI to create this conversation?

What if we could find people who needed healthcare, guide them to real health, engage them during the moments that matter in their health journey, and then learn from those folks, and help them get better, and help more people. Wow, that's pretty cool. That's a game changer in my mind. 88%. That was a real stat from the National Health Institute.

88% of Americans cannot find the right healthcare at the right time in the right place. I am so lucky. I call my neighbor who's a surgeon here. I get him and my sister-in-law, who's an ER nurse. And my youngest daughter's best friend’s dad, who's an emergency doctor at Barnes.

So at least I know somebody. I can call somebody. But you know what? 88% of Americans can't. It's a terrifying statistic.


And so, we decided that we would build a conversational engagement platform for them. And we've worked with Bon Secours Mercy, who is, I think, the second largest Catholic healthcare organization in the world. And they said, let's give it a try.

Let's see if we can't make this work. So, I'm going to introduce you to Catherine. Catherine right now is piloting in Cincinnati. And Catherine, we started Catherine with dementia. And if you've ever had a family member with dementia, you know why we started there.

And I don't know if this does much for you or not, but do you know that one in nine Americans over 65 have dementia?

It's terrifying. And that number is only going to go up. Think of that. So, we’ve got to do something, right? So, we're trying. And I'm going to introduce you to Catherine.

[Catherine Overview Video]

If you're wondering, I'm the Chief Insight Officer and voice over for the company.


Conversational engagement platforms have to be built on the thing I'm most passionate about, which is insight. That's what it takes to do this.

Here's our definition of insight. Insight is a fresh, intimate understanding of people's beliefs that has the power to change behavior. When used in communication, insight should make people feel a bit of tension, you know, surprised at how well you know and eager to hear more of what you have to say.

And in case you think insight is something that's easy, I just want you to know: Insight is achieved. It's not an observation. It's not gathered. You can't go to the grocery store and buy three insights. You can't go to a focus group and say, we got 12 insights out of there today. You can't get a quiet study. You get to get insights; you get data that tells you all of what’s going on in the world.

Google and Amazon are great at the what. Insight tells you the why: why someone thinks the way they do. And I'll tell you how hard this is. I mentioned a minute ago my best friend and the love of my life is my wife, Betsy. Good luck getting her to change her behavior right like that. And I think I know her pretty darn well.

It's hard. This is hard to do. It's hard to understand somebody that well. And so what we do — and what I think everyone's going to have to do if they want to get into this whole notion of leveraging conversational AI or what we think of it now in the AI world as more of conversational engagement — is you're going to have to understand the consumer's journey. You're going to have to know everything about their journey, right?

For example, we break the journey into chapters. We actually created chapters of the dementia journey, and we know the 40,000 questions that people have in those chapters. Think about that. You got to know the 40,000 or 50,000 questions someone has, and you have to decide which of those questions are most relevant, which are the ones that really matter.

And then just to make sure everybody gets it, and that the AI is properly trained, we actually even wrote the Book of Loss. It's a very short autobiography by a dementia caregiver so that the people building our AI understand somebody so well that they know how they feel. They can anticipate their questions. They can think about what's next. But that's what's required. In other words, you're going to have to make a commitment to this. You don't get to just go, “Hey, I think we'll just get some you know, we'll just go ChatGPT, let's go.” No, because Google and Amazon and Microsoft, they're all into the data, but they're not into understanding.

They think they know people, but they don't. They know their data. They know their what. They don't know their why. You have to build the platform off of insight. So, you take the insight, right? And you create a resource library. We have to build our own large language models. That's the only way this works.

If you try to, if you think you can just use, you know, OpenAI or something to pull this off, I don't think it's going to work because the resource library and the large language models are what keep the AI from hallucinating. See, we can put the guardrails on the ice. We tell them these… we told Catherine, here's the only question. You get that, don't go there. You don't get to answer that question. And then the larger language models teach Catherine how to speak with empathy. I think she saw that. You know, she — I'm sorry for calling a thing “she.” But Catherine, Catherine can speak to you in a real way and answer your questions. And that's what it requires.

And then the beauty of this thing. Let's go back to advertising. So, it's not all altruistic. I think it’s that Catherine learns from itself. Right. Every day another question comes up. Guess what? Catherine gets smarter, knows the next question to ask and knows exactly where that person is in the journey, which is a game changer if you're a marketer, because now we can tell you exactly where they are in the journey, whether their engagement is going up or down, and what your message needs to be in that moment in time.

But it's okay. They don't care because you're giving them something. Remember, the relationship has to be a win-win. And that's the change in advertising. We've always been able to just chest pound. We've never given anybody anything but a good laugh. It's got to be more than that. We can even give you a score. We can say, “Well, that customer is at chapter B.

They're at about a sixth level of engagement. They're going down.” Is that a problem? Not necessarily. It's just where they are in their cycle. It's all good. So, we give a score on every customer who goes to that site. That's a level of return on investment. That's a level of understanding of someone that we've never been able to do before.

So, here's how I'd like you to think about this. We've gone from interruption to conversation. The ability for AI to create conversational engagement, we went from interruption, which was, “Hey, you're going to love me” to “How can I help you thrive?”

Big difference, right?

And in the process, you're going to get a better customer/patient experience. You're going to get better engagement with your brand.

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