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For decades, movies have featured charismatic robots. But how realistic is it to imagine that a true robot companion could exist in our lifetime?
That is the question that Anki, the consumer robotics and artificial intelligence company, set out to answer with a loud “Yes!” in June 2016 as it prepared to introduce Cozmo, a small bot with and a big brain and even bigger personality.
Based in San Francisco, Anki rose to fame when Apple CEO Tim Cook introduced the company on stage at Apple’s 2013 Worldwide Developers Conference to demo its AI-powered battle racing experience, Anki DRIVE. In Sept. 2015 Anki released OVERDRIVE, proving that it had perfected a gameplay experience blending the best of video games, toys, and robotics.
But, introducing a complex robot companion like Cozmo was a different story. Working with Dan Klores Communications (DKC) and The OutCast Agency, Anki set several objectives for the Cozmo launch, including the introduction of the robot to U.S. consumers and the ability to raise awareness of the Anki brand among the target demographic ranging from tech early adopters to 8-10 year olds (and their parents). After the success of Anki OVERDRIVE, it was also important to reaffirm Anki’s technical prowess in robotics & AI.
Market research showed that the consumer robotics and toy industries were already overcrowded with products that overpromise and under-delivered, such as pre-programmed robots that offer repetitive play patterns and responses. To set Cozmo apart, the team developed a unique narrative and assets that focused on:
- Cozmo’s mischievous personality and ability to build emotional resonance
- His unique charm imbued by an in-house animation team at Anki, comprised of long-standing animators at Pixar and other major Hollywood studios.
As Anki, DKC and OutCast prepared to introduce Cozmo, they opted to brief the most influential media whose stories would then have a trickle-down effect to other noteworthy outlets. The company met with 30+ prominent media across the biz, tech and consumer space. These included The Wall Street Journal, USA Today (print & online), CNN (broadcast & online), the Financial Times, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, WIRED, The Verge, Refinery29, and many other media outlets.
The pitch focused on the emotional narrative and technological complexities of developing an AI-driven robot. To really drive home the idea that Cozmo is more than a “toy,” Anki was very methodical in positioning him as a real-life robot “companion” or “pet” in all communications with media.
Additionally, although building an emotional connection with Cozmo was the main focus of the conversations with media, the PR team leveraged the announcement as an opportunity to reiterate Anki’s leadership position in consumer robotics & AI. To that end, the team worked with Fast Company and WIRED on two separate in-depth, exclusive stories to focus on the challenges of imbuing a unique personality using AI, and bringing a physical robot to life through animation.
Lastly, all desk-side briefings were accompanied by a hands-on demonstration, which showed off Cozmo’s incredible character depth. However, not all of Cozmo’s capabilities were shown off during the hands-on demo, in order to drum up interest in a reviews program closer to the product launch date.
On June 27, Anki announced Cozmo in the U.S. via a company blog post. The resulting coverage that followed the announcement was extremely positive, with all outlets focusing on Cozmo’s larger-than-life personality.
Noteworthy remarks from the 300+ stories that appeared in the first week included:
- “Anki is taking toy robots to the next level, where they act, and even think, much more like their Hollywood counterparts.” – The Wall Street Journal
- While we’ve seen plenty of toys claiming AI and robotic capabilities in the past, Cozmo feels unique. I’ll admit, I fell for it pretty quickly during a brief demo.” – Engadget
- “He’s absolutely delightful and the first “real” robot average consumers will be able to own.” – Refinery29
The resulting coverage, spanning print, online and broadcast, had an estimated reach of over 850 million, and a “Making of” Cozmo video, which accompanied the announcement blog, garnered more than 150 thousand organic views within the first week.
All the favorable coverage generated strong interest in pre-orders among consumers, far surpassing Anki’s expectations. Cozmo would eventually go on to become the #1 best-selling premium ($75+) toy for 2016, according to The NPD Group.
The company also celebrated a successful 2017 holiday with Cozmo earning the top spot for the best-selling toy on Amazon U.S. two years in a row, according to a One Click Retail report.
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