Tech and e-comm giant Amazon's virtual voice assistant Alexa is a buzz creator, no doubt - be it in the self-spoofing Superbowl ads (a good indicator of ready recall) or the fact that an anomaly which had 'Alexa laughing unexpectedly' gained rapid viral attention.
Naturally, when she finally made it Indian, the buzz grew stronger here. A few months ago, India saw the launch of Amazon's Echo - the AI enabled smart speaker that responds to any query or command preceded by the hotword 'Alexa' - be it on GK, music, news, cricket scores, weather, controlling lights or calling a cab. Alexa responds even when you're outside the room and over music or conversation because of far-field technology and its seven-mic-array setup.
But is India ready for her? "The customer is more than ready," says Ravi Desai, director Mass and Brand marketing, Amazon India. He adds, "It's mainly about the awareness of the capabilities of such a product."
For the rest of the ecosystem, Amazon is constantly working with partners to develop more Alexa 'skills' (capabilities of the backend to deal with questions across areas) be it transactional ('Alexa order me a pizza', 'book a cab', 'play me a tune', 'what's trending in India', 'wake me up tomorrow morning with a Bhajan at 7 am'), knowledge-based, accessing sports scores or simple weather queries.
The time is right
Desai notes that tailwinds like reducing broadband rates, higher speeds and greater data capabilities have made this the apt time for technology like this to be introduced to India. "This is AI available for masses in India at fairly affordable entry prices - it is magical tech at the cost of a metro family's cineplex outing with a meal thrown in," he says, adding that they are seeing a healthy adoption, not just for the entry-level Echo Dot but for devices like Echo and Echo Plus too.
Voice and the 'desi' accent
Alexa can pronounce 'Bachchan' - she won't say 'Bakkan'. She can say Thiruvananthapuram. She knows Rajnikant jokes, follows cricket and is aware that the term 'bunk' is about skipping class and has nothing to do with bed varieties. "It's constantly learning with every occurrence and interaction," says Desai. "There are different ways in India to say the same word. Also, if my wife and son ask for the same song, Alexa would play different versions of each."
The company has launched two TVCs under the #JustAskAlexa campaign. Desai explains that the company wanted Echo to be showcased from an everyday-routine standpoint to convey how it can fit seamlessly into their lives and enhance moments. "You are actually spending good, quality time together and Alexa is there for you in the background (unlike a laptop, tablet or phone)," he notes, adding that while people were familiar with Bluetooth speakers, Amazon wanted to state that there is smarter tech in this speaker-like device.
For the campaign, the team is looking at various touch points - be it OOH or display panels at airports. The newspaper ads will be about deeper education and exposure to Alexa's skills while digital will gauge search signals to craft creatives.
On the TVCs, Kainaz Karmarkar and Harshad Rajadhyaksha, chief creative officers at Ogilvy India, say that the one thing they kept in mind was that the communication should not be layered, as they were introducing 'not just a new gadget but a new member of the family'. They add that since the entire family can appreciate her qualities, they created a campaign where different members of the same family interact with Alexa.
"The family focus is specific to India based on cultural cues whereas globally, campaigns for Echo are more individual-centric", says Kiran Ramamurthy, EVP at Ogilvy.
For the enthusiast
"There was an entire lot waiting for Alexa to be launched here. They've already gone beyond the basic set skills, the morning routines etc. To cater to them, we will be tying up with more relevant first and third-party partners because this is mainly a base on which multiple skills reside," Desai says about catering to tech-savvy consumers.
Beyond the novelty and the brag factor
"Very soon people will get used to it, but right now, novelty is making people share it. I've had people excited even when Alexa tells them its 40 degrees in Ahmedabad. Folks have had parties with music completely played off of Alexa," Desai smiles.
Earned media via influencers
"There are a couple of influencers who've bought these and who, on their own, talked about how they've added magical moments in, without any tie-ups from our side. In this case, we've got technology that really markets itself. Influencers have the customers' eyes and ears because of expertise in a particular domain (music, GK or some other) we may use them from a tactical standpoint, to get deeper into that," explains Desai.
Will Alexa be welcomed into homes? Do the TVCS work?
Sudeep Gohil, Chief Strategy Officer and Managing Partner, Publicis India:
Alexa is interesting as it's not the kind of product that one feels like there is an immediate need for. We are used to alternative, familiar ways and this makes it harder to justify buying one. That said, I have had Alexa in my home for a while and it is genuinely awesome, but the main users are my kids. They are not burdened with the right way of doing something or with entrenched points of view on how to get a job done. They approached Alexa the way that I would hope many Indian would: Here is something new in our home; it's cooler, easier than the alternative and it works!
The films miss the mark though. While the spots capture the product features, they suffer from failing to engage sufficiently. The scenarios presented seem to to be small; the use-case lacks enough of a compelling reason to purchase the device.
Rajeev Sharma, CEO, Ormax Rhodium:
Does a market opportunity for Alexa and other voice-enabled virtual assistants exist in India? Certainly, it does. However, once the novelty wears off, the size of the opportunity would depend on how often it gets used and for what purpose, beyond the obvious. And that's where skilful marketing comes in.
The biggest market opportunities exist because customers are naturally struggling to get something done that is not being done satisfactorily. Not merely because you have discovered new technology. Some instances of natural struggles that voice-enabled virtual assistants obviate could be - wasting time trying to locate the TV remote, adjusting the temperature of the a/c in the middle of the night, forgetting to switch off the lights when you have left a room, finding a synonym to replace an often used word in a presentation, without having to type it - to name a few.
Now, if it could only figure out where I left my glasses.