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Implementing Voice-Enabled Ads in 2020

Media Buying by Jessica Chappell

What Are Voice-Enabled Ads?

Voice ads have begun to usher in a new dimension of advertising that more thoroughly integrates consumers in the marketing experience. Traditional ads have merely passed information along to customers in what marketers hope is an engaging way. A voice ad takes the concept of information exchange further to request verbal responses from the consumers. For marketing teams, the most attractive feature of voice advertising is the immediate response that can follow an ad’s call to action. The CTA is a feature that audio ads have almost completely excluded. What voice advertising provides is the possibility of an immediate return on advertising investment (if users opt to learn more about a product), and any response made by a consumer gives advertisers more direct access to data about its listeners’ engagement. 

Growth of Voice-Enabled Media in Advertising

At least four factors have supported the development of advertising that caters to consumers’ ability to use their voices to interact with programming: the ubiquity of mobile phones, the advance of voice-recognition technology, and the growing inventory of apps that use voice-activated functions. These functions are available to the 273.8 million mobile phone users in the U.S., and yet voice ads will potentially go out to an even wider customer base than just mobile phone users. The user demographic of smart speakers (such as Google Home and Amazon Echo) is predicted to reach 74.2 million in the U.S. by the end of 2019, and the e-commerce directed at these users slated to reach $2.54 billion (Wall Street Journal). The ability to reach listeners with voice ads grants brands another dimension of consumer engagement, and this could lead to a significant increase in the effectiveness of marketing campaigns.

One study by Instreamatic.ai has found voice ads to be ten times more effective at engaging listeners than any other type of ad run through its partner streaming services (Rain Agency). Another study by Adobe has found voice-enabled ads to be less intrusive to consumers than other forms of advertising.  These are important insights because a significant factor affecting consumers’ readiness for voice advertising is their growing exasperation with intrusive, one-sided ads—ads that do nothing more than spout information at them. The only chance consumers usually have for interaction is the possibility of clicking on an ad. However, in many situations (such as when cooking, driving, caring for a child, etc.), they need to be hands-free. The possibility that consumers might now provide vocal responses to ads opens up a wealth of opportunity for marketers to receive floods of valuable data from consumer feedback. 

Voice advertising is in its infancy, and advertisers are still in the process of developing ways to integrate it into the user experience. It was Toys ‘R’ Us and JetBlue who 

pioneered the process. In 2013, JetBlue was first to use the function in its “Air on the side of humanity” campaign. The company adopted the pigeon as a stand-in for travelers portrayed as exploited by airlines, and described the bird as the world’s “most overlooked and underappreciated frequent flier.” The campaign involved encouraging consumers to understand the pigeon by “learning its language,” using an ad that incorporated voice interaction to teach users how to speak like a pigeon. 

Toys ‘R’ Us also ran a campaign in 2013 that enabled mobile consumers to use their voices to answer questions online. Their app then used these responses to direct customers to the product pages that were most relevant to them. The brand’s spokesperson cites their motivation to be the fact that voice recognition appeals to moms, which comprise their core consumer demographic. (ToysRUs). 

Interactivity lies at the heart of the voice ad, as it allows users to have a say in the direction the ad takes. This interactivity involves richer feedback than merely yes or no answers, as the state of voice recognition has advanced to allow the artificial intelligence behind the software to recognize more complex voice commands and even tones. What voice advertising has done is found a way to make audio ads “clickable”—that is, a way to be interactive and to allow marketers to receive data about the ad’s effectiveness. With the ability to register audio responses, advertisers will be able to receive information about whether consumers listened to their ad and more reliable information about whether the ad prompted a purchase. A company’s ability to access this kind of information from its core demographic is invaluable for building and retaining its customer base.

The Current State of the Art

Integrating voice into the production and delivery of advertising has been the domain of smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Nest, which currently do not allow brands to produce ads of their own. However, music streaming services like Pandora and Spotify have also recognized—and have been actively pursuing—the potential of voice advertising, citing the ability to engage in dialogue with customers as a principal goal of this marketing method.

Google dominates multimedia advertising, and Amazon’s audience of active shoppers makes its marketplace another very attractive site for advertising. Their voice-activated assistants (Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa and Echo) naturally make the most likely platform for the integration of voice interactivity into the advertising experience. However, neither Google nor Amazon currently directly sell advertising that specifically targets their assistants’ users, and both restrict the use of third-party apps for the purpose. Still, it is possible to get voice-activated ads from these providers as part of a more comprehensive advertising package (Rain Agency). 

Music streaming services like Pandora and Spotify have also fueled the growing interest in voice advertising by making it possible for advertisers to choose the platform for their ads. Spotify’s mobile app already has a voice assistant function that allows users to search for songs, podcasts, and playlists using voice commands. The company has recently begun testing voice advertising to promote both its podcast Stay Free: The Story of the Clash and an ad-campaign playlist by Unilever Axe. The voice ad proceeds as a normal voice advertisement does but ends by encouraging users to listen to the podcast or playlist by prompting them to say “Play Now.” The content will play if consumers give the command within a certain number of seconds. Otherwise, further ads will run until the end of the advertising segment. 

Pandora has also been working on voice ads. A previous collaboration with Cox used ads powered by artificial intelligence to direct the most suitable creative to consumers based on their listening preferences (Pandora). Now their work with Instreamatic.ai goes a step further to place voice-interactive advertising into streams that play exclusively on Google Nest and Amazon Echo smart speakers (Wall Street Journal). 

Outlook for the Future

Today, marketers hope to get more direct input from consumers using voice advertising. Some visionaries see gamifying ads and making their experience for consumers more story-like as one way of accomplishing this. Melissa Hammersley, a spokesperson for the storytelling app is Novel Effect, has described the proposed advertising method as “a holistic experience that doesn’t necessarily feel like advertising, but something that’s more fun and engaging.” This hope has yet to be fully realized—many still speak of dialogue-based ads as a marketing utopia. Yet the goal is to develop a new form of advertising that integrates almost organically into consumers’ programming, engaging them as content would. 

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