The bot, automated software called "Yourdigitalbuddy," quietly launched on AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo Messenger on Tuesday, little more than a week after Intel unveiled a traditional marketing campaign for the Pentium 4 in print and on television. People can add the agent to their buddy lists and get answers to natural language questions about the processor's functions, as well as links to Intel's Web site.
For example, if someone asks about digital photography on the Pentium 4 processor, a list of options will appear giving directions on how to enhance or share digital photos online. The bot also provides a link to a Web site about photo-editing software.
The chipmaker did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment. According to a source close to the project, Intel plans to market the interactive agent through its Web site and advertising efforts.
Even as advertisers cast a skeptical eye on the value of Internet advertising, some are continuing to experiment with novel tools to reach a mass market. In addition to Intel, ActiveBuddy has signed marketing deals with clients including Keebler, Sprint and AOL Time Warner.
"Clients are recognizing that IM drives eyeballs back to their sites and their properties," said Emily Lenzner, a spokeswoman for ActiveBuddy.
Marketing over instant messenger has hit some snags before. During the heyday of file-sharing networks set off by Napster, companies including Big Champagne and A.D.D. Marketing took guerrilla marketing tactics to chat services. The companies targeted people using Napster and Gnutella to promote various recording artists via instant messenger, pushing album tracks or new music of a particular artist to those with related listening habits.
But such tactics fizzled out after some file-sharing networks lost momentum with Web users.
"That business wasn't sustainable because the content owners have driven the communities underground," said Eric Garland, co-founder of Big Champagne, which now focuses on market research.
So far, marketers that have worked with ActiveBuddy seem to like the results.
Keebler, maker of Cheez-It and Hi Ho crackers, partnered with the technology company to sponsor a sweepstakes through ActiveBuddy's interactive agent dubbed "Smarterchild," which provides information on weather, horoscopes, sporting events and headline news.
For the month of September, the company reported Tuesday, test results showed an impressive 6.5 percent click-through rate from the embedded Web link in Smarterchild to the online entry form on the Cheez-It Web site. E-mail marketing typically garners click-through rates of 2.5 percent, according to marketing Web site Iconocast.
The ads created 120,000 total impressions through Smarterchild, which has built an audience of more than 2 million consumers since its launch in June, according to ActiveBuddy.
Phone company Sprint is using instant messaging as a direct marketing vehicle, sponsoring a contest through ActiveBuddy's sports buddy, called "Agentbaseball," to drive subscriptions to its phone service.
Major record labels are also cozying up to instant messenger to promote emerging and popular artists.
This summer, Warner Bros. Records launched a special chat buddy on AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) to answer questions about Lindsay Pagano, a wunderkind whose first full-length album will be released this fall. Earlier, Capitol Records introduced a first-of-its-kind instant chat buddy for fans of the popular band Radiohead, promoting its latest album to outstanding response.
"Instant messaging is the ideal advertising venue," Anndee Soderberg, a Keebler representative, said in a statement. "Just as consumers are tiring of traditional online advertising, ActiveBuddy shows up with a fresh, welcome way of interacting with customers. And the stellar results from our test suggest the integration of brand with IM is the way to go."