How Brands Can Use Voice-Enabled Ads to Enhance Their Message
Voice advertising landscape
Brands have been seeking out the opportunity for voice-enabled advertising far before voice technology reached mass adoption. In 2013, JetBlue was the first to test this format by creating a conversational game in partnership with advertising platform Mobile Theory, and Toys R Us followed shortly after by employing a voice-activated questionnaire that helped users select holiday gifts. NPR was an early entrant on the content publishing side to meet this demand as they began selling these ads through their smartphone & in-vehicle apps to allow a user to respond when their screen went off or their hands were tied up. Creative applications of voice ads continue to evolve because they lend themselves to two-way interaction that can achieve a high level of captive attention by requiring the consumer’s verbal participation.
Even though the buzz around voice advertising has existed for almost 6 years, Amazon & Google do not directly sell ads on their assistants and don’t allow them through most third-party voice apps. Of course, this broad rule comes with a list of exceptions. Ads are still delivered during Alexa flash briefings and many streaming services. While the exact price varies depending on the publisher, you can buy a voice-activated news briefing ad as part of a comprehensive ad package for around $250,000. Both assistant platforms have organically served users “ad-like” answers to extremely mixed reception. Recently, they’ve each started offering their own music services on their respective devices under an ad-supported “freemium” model.
One media publisher that has taken advantage of their streaming pedigree to get around monetizing their experience on Alexa & Google Assistant is Pandora. While they previously sold ad space across smart devices as a whole, they are now allowing targeting for specific devices—allowing brands more control of where their ads will be placed. Along with Pandora, other content providers like The Washington Post & Bloomberg continue to experiment with new ways to offer advertisers a platform on their smart speaker experiences.
Voice-enabled advertisement ingrains itself even deeper when we look at mobile platforms.
Pandora announced in April that they are planning to test voice-enabled ads with Instreamatic.ai on their mobile app. Since late 2018, they have also been running Cox’s AI-powered audio ads that generate creative based on a user’s listening preferences. Spotify has also thrown their hat in the ring and announced the launch of voice ads that will promote content within the app, such as branded playlists. As streaming services are innovating in different ways to fill the demand for voice ads, there is not yet a clear winner in the market.
Voice advertising reception
According to recent reports, users respond more positively towards voice-enabled ads than others. Adobe has found that 38% of consumers that have come across voice ads have found them to be less intrusive than traditional ads (TV, print, online, and social media) and 39% believe the ads are more engaging. A limited study from Instreamatic.ai, the partner behind Pandora’s voice ad program, found that voice ads were 10x more effective than others it ran through an online radio streaming service.
As with any form of advertising, there could be repercussions for the voice ad if not executed correctly. In an August 2018 study, eMarketer found that about 42% of their 1,079 respondents felt that digital ads are becoming “too aggressive” as they follow you from multiple devices and browsers. We live in a time where advertising is everywhere, on every device. The climbing usage rate of ad blockers year over year on both desktop and mobile would suggest that digital users are increasingly seeking out ways to remove ads from their lives. This begs the question: Will voice advertising be effective as an additive component of a campaign, or will consumers want it to replace traditional methods to avoid ad fatigue?
Voice advertising opportunities
There is no shortage of opportunities that can come from more granular voice ad buys. For example, a CPG brand could target an ad specifically towards Alexa because of the platform’s strength in e-commerce. This is a behavior that’s already mirrored through ad buying trends on Amazon as a whole. Amazon’s advertising revenue grew 95% to $3.4 billion in the last quarter of 2018 because of their ability to see through the entire purchase cycle. They know what users buy and are able to follow that to consumption and repeat buying patterns. The data that this “closed loop” system provides is invaluable for advertisers that are looking for as much context as possible to hit the right users, at the right time, and achieve the highest ROI.
An early case coming from Pandora’s device-specific targeting program is the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. They’re using smart speaker voice ads on both Alexa and Google Assistant to promote their voice experience, Chuck. In doing this, they’re assuring their CTA can be completed on the same device and removing friction by making everything voice-enabled. While this program allows for more control over where and when your voice ad is being played, there is still a need to go through a third-party publisher to be heard.
Voice could also serve as a strong advertising medium during hard to reach moments, such as commuting. Out of necessity, the time spent operating a vehicle should not involve other devices or diverting too much focus from the road. There are more than 200 data points in connected cars, making this an incredibly rich surface for ad targeting. Early bets on personalized advertisement in the car are growing rapidly. AI startup Audioburst raised $10 million in April to focus on expanding advertising programs into vehicles. In addition, buying ads through a streaming service could already have a built-in advantage by being a popular use for in-car voice assistants.
While media & music streaming services like Pandora have a strong presence in the car and elsewhere, a behavior just as pervasive on voice assistants continues to be asking questions. There’s not currently a way for a brand to buy a spot during these moments, even if a consumer is asking specifically for their product. Bidding to be the top answer to a question is not a new concept for Google or Amazon, and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that being incorporated into a future iteration of how voice search operates. In a scenario where your ad could show up in multiple different places within a voice platform, such as it can on desktop or mobile, how can you tell an additive story consumers want to hear instead of contributing to their increasing ad burnout?
Voice advertising is nascent, and most examples come in some variation of an interactive audio format. Using a call and response style is only logical when trying to capitalize on the unique affordances of voice, but what other content opportunities are possible? As more areas for ad buys are sure to become available through voice, brands need to think about a strategy for how their ad creative & messaging flows together instead of risking being duplicative. Maybe sponsoring a podcast on Pandora becomes a more appropriate tactic while an interactive ad is surfaced when a consumer executes a search related to your product. It will be vital to watch which types of voice ads consumers respond to the most on different channels.
Regardless of your ad strategy, it’s important to remember that brands exist in the mind of the consumer. This means a user will not always react to a voice experience in the way it was intended. Fortunately, voice can document moments when verbal dissonance occurs and can reveal a valuable insight: “How does my consumer wish I was communicating with them?” Selling this concept is something NPR recognized back in 2014 and other competitors have been slow to follow. Voice ads can capture how a user feels about the promotion of an offering and creates a new avenue for brands to find messaging that resonates. The real power of voice-enabled advertisements is their ability to capture analytics with intent, and as the market evolves, the opportunity brands will have to create stronger conversations with their ideal consumer.
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