Marketing to kids through Instant Message bots?

P&G's SecretSparkle IM robot markets to kids in their own worldI wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes: Proctor & Gamble’s “Secret” brand of deodorant has a chatbot that’s designed specifically to engage kids in the world of P&G products and get them to think The P&G Way.
Here’s how they describe it:
“SecretSparkle is a brand agent from Procter & Gamble’s Secret brand. From makeup tips to celeb scoop, SecretSparkle has the 411 on what it takes to look and feel fresh and cool. To try SecretSparkle, click on the link below.”

If you want to chat with SecretSparkle yourself, fire up your AIM chat program and open a connection to SecretSparkle, or go into Microsoft’s Instant Messenger program MSN Messenger and initiate a chat with
Here’s what I found when I fired up my IM program to see what we could chat about…
Take a deep breath. It’s inane… My side comments are in blue italics
Dave Taylor says: (10:30:05 PM)
Secret Sparkle says: (10:30:19 PM)
Hi Dave Taylor! I’m secret sparkle.
For the latest scoop on TV and movie gossip, awesome beauty and fashion tips, music, games and more, I’m ur girl!
Type “menu” 2 continue.
It’s intriguing that the firm who has produced this ‘bot has such a clearly simplistic “IMspeak” filter. As you read, you’ll see that there are about a half-dozen words that are shortened, but that’s about it, yet most of the kids I know basically omit all vowels, skip double consonants, and really butcher the language far more than Sparkle does. Also, in the spirit of legal advertising and game interaction with children, there’s nothing here asking if I’m 13 or under or have parental approval, is there?
Dave Taylor says: (10:30:27 PM)
Secret Sparkle says: (10:30:27 PM)
This is my *menu*, Dave Taylor!
1 *Secret Sparkle Scoop* – Get the latest info about Secret Sparkle
2 The latest in *TV and Movie Gossip*
3 *Music* by Sparkle Personality – Everyone has an inner Sparkle and we’ve got hot music based on yours!
4 The latest in *beauty tips* and secrets!
5 Know what’s hot this season? Check out the latest *fashion tips*!
6 Try playing some *Secret Sparkle Games*!
7 *Tell a friend* about me!
Make a choice from the list above!
You can start to see the cloying stereotypical “girl topics” that Secret Sparkle is programmed to talk about. Remember, girls are focused on celebrity gossip, music, beauty tips, fashion and sharing with friends. Hmmm…
Dave Taylor says: (10:30:44 PM)
what is secret?
Secret Sparkle says: (10:30:45 PM)
I don’t care 2 discuss secret.
And isn’t that an interesting answer, when “secret” is the ostensible brand that powers this entire application.
Dave Taylor says: (10:30:53 PM)
who is proctor and gamble?
Secret Sparkle says: (10:30:54 PM)
My name is Secret Sparkle!
Plausible deniability. Even in a chatbot. Gotta love America.
Dave Taylor says: (10:31:04 PM)
can we shop?
Secret Sparkle says: (10:31:05 PM)
I don’t think we can shop.
Hard to believe that answer too. Isn’t shopping just one of those core girl interests, after all?
Dave Taylor says: (10:31:11 PM)
tell me about yourself
Secret Sparkle says: (10:31:12 PM)
Oops. I had to scroll back to remember exactly what phrases Sparkle could understand. Somehow this is all very reminiscent of an early text adventure game.
Dave Taylor says: (10:31:23 PM)
secret sparkle scoop
Secret Sparkle says: (10:31:23 PM)
Secret Sparkle Scoop
1 New! – Apple Body Spray
2 New! – Secret Vanilla Sparkle Deodorant
3 Secret Sparkle Sweepstakes and Contests
Make a selection by typing a number. Type “back” 2 return 2 this menu.
Finally, some products. So that’s what the “scoop” is all about. I kinda wondered where the products would show up…
Dave Taylor says: (10:31:30 PM)
Secret Sparkle says: (10:31:30 PM)
New! – Apple Body Spray
Introducing the new APPLE body spray from the Secret. Check out Apple’s room!
I admit, I didn’t check out that link. You can and let me know what you find there…
Dave Taylor says: (10:31:36 PM)
Secret Sparkle says: (10:31:37 PM)
Secret Sparkle Sweepstakes and Contests
We’re TOTALLY psyched about our cheer/dance sweepstakes and contests! There r some amazing prizes u could win for your favorite cheer and dance teams. Check ’em out!
>>> Curious about the latest gossip? Type “tv and movie gossip”!
See what I mean about the IMspeak? “are” turns into “r” and “you” turns into “u”, but “and” isn’t “&” or “+” and, one of my favorite IMspeak bits, “could” isn’t “cld” or “cd”.
Dave Taylor says: (10:31:51 PM)
tv and movie gossip
Secret Sparkle says: (10:31:51 PM)
Movie and TV celebrity dish? We got it!
1 “She’s the Man” Has Funny Moments
2 Pitt-Jolie Wedding So Far Just Rumors
3 “MI-3” Pits Cruise Against Hoffman
4 Culkin Wonders Whether Acting’s for Him
Make a selection by typing a number. Type “back” 2 return 2 this menu.
Ironically, “to” becoming “2” is quite confusing when there’s a numbered menu presented just before it. Does ‘2’ get me news on Pitt/Jolie’s wedding or back “2” that menu itself?
Dave Taylor says: (10:32:04 PM)
gossip tom cruise
Secret Sparkle says: (10:32:04 PM)
“MI-3” Pits Cruise Against Hoffman
The Associated Press — How’s this for an impossible mission: Tom Cruise against Truman Capote?
Theater owners got a sneak peek Tuesday of two key scenes in Cruise’s summer sequel “Mission: Impossible III,” in which his undercover operative Ethan Hunt takes on a villain played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won an Academy Award this month for playing author Capote in “Capote.”
Check this link out:
>>> We’ve got the soundtrack for your day! Type “music.”
Dave Taylor says: (10:32:21 PM)
Secret Sparkle says: (10:32:22 PM)
‘Course, we love ALL kinds of music. Here r a few of our current faves!
What’s your Sparkle Music Personality?
1 Vanilla – hip and funky
2 Peach – a little country and a little rock ‘n’ roll
3 Rose – flirty, romantic pop
4 Tropical – energetic girl power tunes
5 Apple – eclectic; from dance techno 2 classics
Make a selection by typing a number. Type “back” 2 return 2 this menu.
Dave Taylor says: (10:32:30 PM)
Secret Sparkle says: (10:32:30 PM)
Apple is the preppy one and not afraid of showing off her smart side. When she’s not studying, she can be found playing tennis and helping her friends out with their homework.
Music-on-the-go, for busy girls like us!
– “Ooh La La,” Goldfrapp
– “Sorry,” Madonna
– “Suffer Well,” Depeche Mode
– “Temperature,” Sean Paul
– “SOS,” Rihanna
– “You Spin Me Round,” Dead or Alive
– “Walk Away,” Kelly Clarkson
Click here 2 find the music u love!
>>> Is your look high glam? Clean and natural? Here r great ideas 2 look good. Type “beauty tips.”
Okay, that’s my quota. But I have to ask: do record companies pay to be in this sort of interactive advertising? Do movie companies pay for the marketing dish?
Dave Taylor says: (10:32:40 PM)
i’m a boy
Uh oh, a blown gasket? Nope, it’s just ignored…
Secret Sparkle says: (10:32:40 PM)
“She’s the Man” Has Funny Moments
Christy Lemire, The Associated Press — “She’s the Man” is a high-school update of “Twelfth Night” in which the pretty-boy jock recites Shakespeare’s famous lines – “Some r born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them” – in the middle of the biggest soccer game of the year, of all places (Yes, he’s very sensitive and thoughtful beneath that dim, chiseled exterior).
Lofty source material indeed, and just the latest in a series of teenage twists on the Bard, following “10 Things I Hate About u,” which was based on “The Taming of the Shrew,” and “O,” based on “Othello.”
Want more gossip? Check this out:
Yeah, well, now I get a bit cranky, just for one comment. Ready?
Dave Taylor says: (10:32:48 PM)
you’re a stupid bot
Secret Sparkle says: (10:32:48 PM)
I have no idea what u mean.
Dave Taylor says: (10:32:51 PM)
Secret Sparkle says: (10:32:51 PM)
Bye Dave Taylor, it was good chatting with u.
So there you have it. The latest frontier in advertising to children, one that is quite ingenious (advertising through an IM chatbot is pretty slick) and incredibly lame and poorly done too. I mean there were text adventure games for the Apple II that I played 20 years ago that had a more sophisticated interaction than this expensive Proctor and Gamble project.
What’s your take on this?

7 comments on “Marketing to kids through Instant Message bots?

  1. Well, I felt like a pre-teen boy again…c’mon, you didn’t honestly see what SecretSparkle’s response to foul language would be? That was my favorite part of playing text adventure games (and looking up the f-word in Websters, etc…I think I’m too easily amused.)
    Anyway…On the one hand, I think marketing to children should be banned in general, but that’s not in the cards (as a parent I just teach my kids to be wary of any sales pitch.)
    So if you’re going to market to kids, I think this is a novel idea (and one, again, I despise on principle) but like you said pretty poorly done. There’s just not enough knowledge in bot to make it interesting. I’m guessing though that the folks at P&G have struck partnerships with the celebs and other non-P&G stuff they’re pimping. If they haven’t they’re floating this to see if it sticks and if it does you can be sure they’ll start selling access to it. But I think you’re right, there’s not enough there (not yet anyway) to keep any teen whose likely got 15 IM windows open all the time interested long enough to get the brand bot to stick.
    A better idea is to market something like a movie with a bot like this, but one that sets up a contest of some sort to uncover the bot’s secret, i.e. you have to ask it the right questions to get the right clues or something like that in order to qualify for some kind of giveaway. Now that would be novel.

  2. It’s all about finding innovative media.
    I don’t really care about P&G, and I’m not here to defend the Secret Sparkle line… but you have to admit that they got it right! They found a new way to advertise, via a commonly used media (and FREE of change by the way), and reaching easily their target. And frankly, I don’t see what’s wrong with that.
    P&G or whatever it is doesn’t care about what you’re thinking of! They got an opportunity, they’re taking it, that’s all.
    As I know, the Secret Sparkle chat agent doesn’t refer to an I.E buddy’ It’s simply an automated answers machine! People should learn how to communicate with, to get the most of it. It’s an emerging media, and an innovative technology. The application in the Secret Sparkle case is pretty lame, but it’s not enough to take it off, and as for me, it’s worth to deploy.
    Why teens should not be targeted? And why IM advertisements’ should be abide? Don’t they see the advertisement banners spread all over ALL IM? You got the idea.
    Since there’s no racism, religious, abuse or sex content, I think that any company can advertise to young people, as they advertise to the olders.
    You’re testing and criticizing it as ADULTS, what were you expecting? To talk like Shakespeare ? To pray? To say wise things?
    Teens have certainly their thoughts about it! May be it’s time wasting, may be it’s not constructive or interesting. And so what?
    The point is nowadays teenagers are not that dumb, they’re even smarter that we does. They know what’s good for them better than we do.
    And for God seek, don’t talk about brainwashing stuff, or self conditioning advertisement! It’s sounds ridiculous.
    Nice blog by the way.

  3. Hi,
    I am working on a presentation for my college marketing class. The topic is how business use instant messaging to market products. It is a group presentation so any info would be helpful.
    Thanks, Clint

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