Social activation to drive the menu choice at SXSW2014
Social activation to drive the menu choice at SXSW2014

One of the most impressive displays of data driven innovation and equally of the best stories of social media campaign hacking at SXSW 2014 came from IBM’s Cognitive Cooking efforts.

IBM created a small, rather understated pop-up space just steps from the Austin Convention Center.  Inside there was small food truck serving one of six select menus including #chili, #dumplings, and #burritos. [hearty southern food!]

Serving up #Poutine at SXSW 2014
Serving up #Poutine at SXSW 2014

This was a menu created with the help of Watson – IBM’s renown self aware computational genius of a computer.    IBM input the chemical food structures of over 10K foods (or so I was told at the food truck).  Watson then matched foods coming up with new combinations based on flavour profiles.  Now add a partner like New York’s Institute of Culinary Education – who took the new favourful combinations and made a menu.

Peruvian Potato Poutine – an IBM Food Truck creation in collaboration with the Institute of Culinary Education and Watson

On the day that I was sampling the #IBM Food Truck Fare, I interviewed the chef to understand if Watson’s involvement took away any of his enjoyment.  The chef revealed that whereas Watson recommended the food combinations, the computer did not give a recipe, amount of ingredients to be used relative to other ingredients nor information on how to prepare the food.  And so he felt there was a lot of territory to explore as a chef.   With that, he gave me a sample of Peruvian potato #poutine.

Well the poutine was a fine combination of potato, roasted cauliflower, spicy tomato sauce and goat or feta cheese on top.  It was amazing!  Who thought to add roasted cauliflower to poutine?  Watson.   As I wandered around the IBM Food Truck, I noticed an extraordinary number of Quebeckers also enjoying poutine.    So I interviewed one to see if the poutine lived up to her expectations..  [coincidentally the wife of someone I really enjoyed working with in the JWT Montreal office]

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Full credit to @TP1 and @nvanderv – who twitter hacked IBM’s cognitive cooking contest by inserting a ‘fake’ entry and winning. Absolutely brillant

Talking to a few IBMers at the booth – I learned the onslaught of Montrealers was no accident.  Having #poutine on the menu was a beautiful hack to IBM’s cognitive cooking campaign.  You see – to add a layer of social activation for SXSW, IBM marketed the six menu choices, each with their own poster, and encouraged South by Southwesterners to vote by hashtag on what menu they wanted for each day.

That’s where @TP1 and @NVanderv enter.  They created their own ‘fake’ poster, entered it into the socialsphere and voila! They gained so many ‘votes’ that IBM agreed to make #poutine.    If you can read French, this is really explained much better in the Minimal Blog “Informatique cognitive et fromage en grain”.  Anyhow – I just love how you can create a campaign but the audience might take over – in a hack that is so much more than IBM could have ever planned.

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