Microsoft’s splashy preview of its AI-enabled version of its Bing search engine a month ago is proving to be one of the most successful branding events of its era—but not so much for Microsoft or Bing.
Instead, the real winner looks to be ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence chatbot technology created by OpenAI—Fast Company’s Most Innovative Company of Year—a name that didn’t even exist a few months ago and is now shorthand for the tech capability that practically every company seems to be scrambling to add to its repertoire.
But this iteration of what could be called “ingredient marketing”—promoting the inclusion of a brand-name technology as a key component of a product—is a little different. Intel was openly advertised, complete with what became familiar audio and visual logos; ChatGPT’s special ingredient status is less formal, and less concrete. Instead of promising consumer-centric values like speed and reliability, as multiple hardware brands touting their use of Intel chips did in the PC heyday, the companies glomming onto ChatGPT hope to add an innovative glow to their brand: “You think Bing is staid and boring? Well check out this smart and cutting-edge development!”
For Bing, that strategy worked — somewhat. When Microsoft (a significant investor in OpenAI) signaled it was building a new Bing iteration incorporating ChatGPT tech, Google responded by rushing to announce its own AI variation . . . and face-planted when the highlight of the unveiling was a factual error. The ChatGPT Inside version of Microsoft seemed poised to “eat Google’s lunch.”
Within days, however, journalists and others with advance access to the AI version of Bing began reporting unnerving, falsehood-riddled, dystopian exchanges with the chatbot. The sheer volume of attention arguably gave a “new relevance” to Bing search, temporarily boosting downloads of the Bing app, according to Apptopia data cited by Slate. But despite having more than 1 million users on the waiting list to try Bing’s AI chatbot, Bing’s global search market share actually fell slightly in February, to 2.81% according to StatCounter.
So for now, Microsoft has postponed eating Google’s lunch and opted instead for a helping of crow, dialing back and restricting Bing’s AI chatbot function to make it less frightening and weird. (Or “lobotomizing” it, according to the tool’s erstwhile fans.)
Yet, none of that fallout seems to have hurt ChatGPT, or the enthusiasm for generative AI. According to SimilarWeb data cited by The Wall Street Journal, visits to Bing.com are about where they were last November—but visits to ChatGPT have grown sharply over the same period. And the rush of announcements of AI initiatives includes not just those directly building off ChatGPT (which Microsoft, notably, is reportedly encouraging), but also a we’re-innovating-too! AI pile on from Meta, Baidu, and others who see a pivotal “iPhone moment.” Even Elon Musk, an original backer of OpenAI, is now rumored to be scheming an “anti-woke” ChatGTP alternative. All of that reactive-seeming competition just makes ChatGPT appear that much more important.
Stil, while the technorati may be losing their hive mind in excitement about AI gold-rush possibilities, it’s not clear that the general public is there yet; poll data-cruncher FiveThirtyEight found that surveys, so far, indicate mixed feelings at best. And while it’s not hard to imagine killer AI applications coming soon, even the most effective ingredient marketing has clear limits: The use of Intel chips didn’t save Gateway from its early 2000s tumble and acquisition by Acer.
The last few months have likely put ChatGTP on the radar of the mainstream consumer, and that’s no easy feat. But where it goes next depends on the technology translating into actual products that respond to actual needs or desires. “Intel Inside” achieved mass-audience meaning because the company’s chips powered products that changed lives for the better. The AI version of Bing hasn’t done that—but ChatGTP just might.
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