Your Depressing Future: IMing with Brands

"Messaging apps"—which bring all the computing power of AIM to your smartphone—are so very in right now. The problem is, most of them don't make any money. But what if your buddy list were filled with advertisers? That's the plan.

The Wall Street Journal takes a look at our incoming marketing dystopia, where conversations with advertising chat bots keep messaging software lucrative:

Kik, a chat service like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, claims that four in 10 U.S. teens are active users of its service. And now, thanks to the application of a decades-old technology—the chat bot—those Kik-using teens are having something like actual conversations with a half dozen brands, including Moviefone, Funny or Die, and the Kik team itself.

The premise is this: teens are weak of mind and easily influenced by product-peddling texts. "Cool" advertisers like "Taco Bell" or "the condom store" will gladly pay for the opportunity to have virtual conversations with these young potential customers:

Chat bots built by brands can be used for entertainment, but they can also be used to inform; imagine conversing with your bank or utility company's bot when you have a customer-service question.

Imagine: the helpful, gratifying experience of talking with your online bank's virtual customer service rep, beamed straight to your smartphone, and trying to sell you things. And robots are just the start:

So imagine this scenario, which is a version of what Mr. [Kik founder Ted] Livingston says his team aspires to: Taco Bell wants to roll out a new flavor of Doritos Locos Tacos. Maybe this one is "X-tra spicy," and it has the personality and verbal tics to match. Fifty or so brand representatives, real human beings, could have chat conversations with customers at the outset, and the chat engine would learn from those interactions, gradually becoming more autonomous, until it could automatically handle thousands of simultaneous conversations.

The teens. The teens are gonna fuckin' eat this up, man.