The problems with chatbots is they tend to sound too robotic. That’s why companies hire comedians and scriptwriters to shape their bot personalities and give them that human edge.

This week, Google announced it has hired writers from film studio Pixar and satirical site the Onion to help make Google Assistant, which powers its Home device, sound more human. Howdy, which works with Slack to automate simple orders, has writer and former-improv-comedian Neal Pollack on payroll. Microsoft’s Tay, which will be remembered for its racist outburst, was built by utilizing improv comedians.

“For a brand or publisher building a bot it ends up being an experiment,” said Seth Greenfield, co-founder at Imperson, which has created character bots on Facebook Messenger like Miss Piggy and Doc Brown for Disney and Universal. “One of the early lessons is that free comes at a cost: You lose your voice.”

If you look at five different bots from news publishers on Messenger, it is difficult to tell the difference. Once a company shells out for the initial cost of creating a bot, around $50,000 and then regular maintenance of $10,000 a month, according to Greenfield, there’s little budget left for crafting a personality.“

Interactive scriptwriting is a new profession,” said Greenfield. “It’s being born at this point. This will be taught at universities in the next five years.”

At agency Xandra Labs, which develops bots for platforms like Facebook Messenger, the team develops bot personas: what job they have, their siblings, daily habits, what their fears and goals are, even what their parents do and how they were brought up. Most of the time, this information is never represented in the actual bot; it’s more of a planning tool to develop a personality that can then be translated into dialogue.“

Personifying brands has never been more important,” said Jess Thoms, co-founder at Xandra Labs. “Conversational experiences between brands and consumers need to be led by writers and designers, in order to turn conversations into conversions.”

She points to Casper’s Insomnobot 3000 as a case brands can learn from, which acts as…

Learn more @ Brands and publishers turn to actors and comedians to give chatbots personality via Digiday