Sure, on the face of it, it might’ve come off as just another gimmicky New Year’s Day ad campaign. Fun, funny, interactive, a clever use of Amazon Alexa and Google Home. But not even the folks at Vita Coco who dreamed him up—him being C.H.A.D., the Voice AI character that may even be a she and not a he—realized the quasi-revolutionary implications and possibilities of their AI chatbot, an acronym for Coconut Hangover Alleviation Device.

“We’re obsessed with the idea of CHAD internally now,” admits Brittany Harshbarger, Vita Coco’s senior manager of growth marketing. “It’s a great asset in our marketing toolkit. We think of CHAD as an employee.”

Indeed, such is the difference voice brings—to chatbots, to devices such as Alexa and Google Home, to the world itself. CHAD’s no longer just another chatbot, CHAD has personality, a presence. (And down the line, maybe even a 401K plan.)

Consumers were able to easily access the AI chatbot for free using Alexa or Google Home. For example: “Alexa, enable Coconut Hangover Device,” or, “OK, Google, talk to Coconut Hangover Device.” CHAD, through Alexa or Google Home, would then respond with any number of cheeky comebacks:

  • “You can’t spell binge without gin. Or whatever it was you put in your body last night.”
  • “On a scale of 1 to 10—1 meaning you passed the field sobriety test but you sang Drake lyrics with the officer, and 10 meaning your search history from last night is 20 variations of ‘Total Body Transplant Surgery’—how hungover are you?”
  • “The best place to start tracing your steps is your camera roll. That could also be the worst place to start.”

New Year’s Day is Vita Coco’s tentpole event. And this year they wanted to do something especially lighthearted. “Because of all the challenges this past year, we wanted to surprise and delight our consumers,” says Harshbarger. “We wanted to entertain and give people a break. And National Hangover Day gave us a great opportunity to talk about the benefits of coconut water in an unexpected way.

Not too many brands have caught on to voice yet.”

“Plus, not too many brands have caught on to voice yet,” adds Harshbarger. “Not too many have figured out how to utilize it. This experiential moment gave customers a real way to participate. And it makes voice a little more accessible to them. Voice was the cherry on top.”

Cherries like these, though, don’t just grow on trees. So to give CHAD his voice, Vita Coco turned to the folks at MagicCo. “Magic was crucial in making this come to life,” raves Harshbarger. “We were all up against the clock on this, and they totally nailed it. It was very synergistic. Since we referenced alcohol consumption, Amazon rated us for mature content. So we had to figure out how to deal with that, how to work around it—even from a voice perspective.”

“The CHAD campaign was a prototype-level experience for a business model that works on the voice assistants,” explains MagicCo founder and president Ben Fisher. “Marketers usually get the publicity they need and the Return on Investment from the prototype and activation, but with this, they could quickly convert to something more longer-term than just an activation—it gives them a permanent presence that helps drive sales from voice search. For beverage companies, that volume is large.”

Magic and Vita Coco also bonded around their shared philosophies—business models that were mutually beneficial. “Everyone makes money in these arrangements,” says Fisher. “And that’s how I view partnerships. We have a vast client list who turn to us despite the misinformation out there about voice coming from unscrupulous actors.”

“I’m really proud of VitaCoco for taking the risk with this device,” says Harshbarger. “Because we’re an independently owned company, we have the ability to move fast and take risks with our campaigns. It gives us a competitive advantage.”

Oddly enough, CHAD came to life after Vita Coco’s marketing team, keen to do something for New Year’s but unsure what that might be, found their answer after noodling around on Google Trends. They wanted to find the day people were most likely to be recovering from a night out. That’s when Google told them there was a spike on January 1st. And, voila! Vita Coco had their “in.” Now CHAD’s not only the world’s first-ever AI hangover device available on Amazon Alexa and Google Home, CHAD’s virtually an employee.

Vita Coco’s now looking at other special days where CHAD might be of assistance. (World Coconut Day is on September 2nd.) “There’s a lot of runway for him to appear on an omnichannel basis,” says Harshbarger.

But one of the reasons CHAD worked so well is that audio—voice—is “a hugely personal medium,” says Harshbarger. “People feel connected to DJs and to podcasters—through their voice. Alexa is an AI but we’re most comfortable with her. With it. And CHAD was born through audio. So now the question around here is, How do we personify or personalize him? And is it even a him?”

As is more the case with voice than with an avatar or a face, people who connect with a character, with a real voice develop their own image for something (someone) like CHAD.

“He’s still up for discussion as an AI creation,” continues Harshbarger. “We originally thought of him as a him. But now we’re not so sure. We gave him this sort of surfer bro personality, but maybe that’s not really who he is. We’re excited to see how CHAD can and will evolve.”