Smoothie King pens paperback romance novel with aid of ChatGPT

    • Smoothie King is releasing a romance novel written with the help of OpenAI’s ChatGPT software, according to a news release. 
    • “A Summer Fling to the X-Treme” details the budding relationship between a woman, Millie, and a mysterious traveler who rolls into the town of Simpleville named Walter Melone, whose name is a pun on watermelon. The 250-page text is also laced with hidden codes for readers to crack.
    • The first 300 consumers who successfully solve the puzzle and download the brand’s app will receive a free smoothie offer in the app. The artificial intelligence-powered content marketing play promotes the return of a seasonal X-Treme Watermelon smoothie flavor, along with a new X-Treme Watermelon Lemonade variant.

    Consumer-facing experiments with generative AI are getting more popular as the tech promises to usher in a wave of innovation, but Smoothie King isn’t taking the concept too seriously.

    “A Summer Fling to the X-Treme” bears all the hallmarks of a dime store romance novel, with a cover showing a buff man cut from the Fabio mold — presumably Walter Melone — embracing protagonist Millie, who is holding a sliced watermelon. The artwork itself is almost certainly the product of AI; Millie’s left hand has seven mismatched fingers, a creepy but common uncanny valley effect in AI-generated imagery. 

    As indicated by the title, “A Summer Fling to the X-Treme” is meant to drum up excitement for the return of the chain’s seasonal X-Treme Watermelon smoothies, which are available this year through Aug. 28 while supplies last. The gamification of the full-length romance novel, with secret codes for careful readers to parse through, could also drive adoption Smoothie King’s mobile app as the channel becomes a more critical one for quick-service restaurants catering to smartphone-friendly consumer groups.

    The text itself is readable, but with repetitive sentence structures that could be the effect of AI. An excerpt shared by the brand has Millie ride her horse, Turbo, around the countryside only to eventually encounter Walter in his “fancy sports car” and race him. Remarkably, Walter loses the race because he runs out of fuel, but the two’s bond grows stronger from the experience. Advance blurbs on Smoothie King’s website come from a processor, whose contribution is written entirely in binary code, and a vintage computer named Mac. 

    Smoothie King is giving away 300 paperback copies of its novel — billed as the “summer’s thirstiest” — for free to users who complete a form through a special website. Interestingly, the brand has pledged to delete any data submitted once the book ships and is actively encouraging consumers to give themselves fun names for the order. That goes against the grain of brand giveaways that often double as a means for acquiring more first-party customer data. 

    Along with tapping into the AI hype, Smoothie King is leaning into the current romance novel renaissance, a trend that has largely been driven by Gen Z. The genre has remained resilient even as book sales taper off, bolstered by its popularity on TikTok, where users like to joke and meme about reading “smut.” Smoothie King in February named Barkley its agency of record for brand and creative strategy, valuing the shop’s focus on reaching modern consumers.

    Smoothie King isn’t the first marketer to try its hand at a full-fledged romance novel. KFC in 2017 penned a steamy novella called “Tender Wings of Desire” that placed a ripped version of mascot Colonel Sanders in the starring role. The effort was timed to Mother’s Day, one of the QSR’s biggest sales occasions, and presumably written without the help of AI.


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