In May 2019, we explored how brands can use voice-enabled ads to enhance their message. At that point, interactive audio ads were slowly inching forward on a few platforms. 

But in the past two years, voice-enabled ads have come a long way. Novel use cases and platforms have emerged, and the use of smart speakers for listening to audio content has steadily climbed. As a result, brands are unsurprisingly gravitating toward the opportunities in this space. 

What Are Interactive Audio Ads? A Quick Refresher

Interactive audio ads, or voice-enabled ads, prompt listeners to vocally reply and dictate what comes next in the listening experience. Although this format is a recent development, consumers are already primed to interact with voice-enabled ads — 38.5% of the US population uses a voice assistant at least monthly.

Although these ads initially were served on Spotify and Pandora, they have caught the attention of major brands and are now expanding to new mediums. NBCUniversal Peacock and several streaming radio stations are recent adopters, highlighting how both traditional and new channels are driving innovation.

Voice-enabled ads are not only accessible through smart speakers, but through mobile devices and smart TVs as well. Currently, simple “yes” and “no” responses are accepted while some ads use short phrases like “Play Now” to drive users to other content. With voice, brands are experimenting with the format’s conversational capabilities to craft a memorable and actionable message.

Are Voice-Enabled Ads Effective?

In traditional audio ads, brands dictate their messages, and consumers passively listen in (if they’re even listening at all). By introducing interactivity, brands are able to grab listeners’ attention and provide them a direct opportunity to engage. Smart speaker ads (the non-interactive, audio-only kind) have already been shown to be effective in several studies. An Adobe study shows that over half of consumers found them easier to recall, less intrusive, and more engaging.

But the arrival of voice-enabled ads has also created a new paradigm of measurement that assesses if a consumer actually listened. 

To date, results of the first voice-enabled ads have been positive: 72% of Pandora voice-activated ad listeners described the ads as easy to use. 47% said they either liked or loved the ability to use their voice to interact with ads. Adtech company Instreamatic observed that 38% of consumers have found voice ads to be less intrusive than traditional ads, and 39% believe the ads are more engaging.

How Brands Can Use Interactive Voice Ads Today

Interactive ads that immerse and engage users in the experience broaden the horizons of what brands can offer to their customers in an audio environment. There are several use cases of the format, spanning from brand awareness and marketing campaign extensions to product sampling and couponing.

Brand Awareness & Campaign Engagement

Imagine targeting a listener of a cooking playlist with a call to action to hear an ad for a recipe. Or a fitness buff opts in to listen to beverage or health supplements ads while streaming a workout playlist. Audio targeting capabilities can enable these hyper-specific messages that reach an interested listener at the ideal time and also provide a unique way to drive interaction.

Since 2019, Pandora has been working with Instreamatic to pilot interactive voice ads with brands including Doritos, Unilever, and Wendy’s. Focused on brand awareness and light engagement, the beginning of each ad identifies that it is a new type of ad that you can talk to and prompts the listener to say “yes” to hear the rest of the ad.

With marketers searching for innovative ways to drive customers to their audio and voice content, they are pinpointing not only Alexa Skills and Google Actions as extensions of their campaigns, but also the engagement capabilities of voice-enabled ads. 

In 2019, Unilever’s Axe tested a spot for US Spotify listeners on mobile devices to drive them to an Axe-branded playlist. After the spot was presented with a brief lead in, it encouraged users to check out the “Chill Vibes” Axe-branded playlist by saying “Play Now” and gave the listener time to respond. If the user said anything else except “Play Now,” a tone sounded, the mic was turned off, and the ad break then continued as usual. If the user said, “Play Now,” the ad brought the listener to the branded playlist and automatically started playing the songs.

The Unilever example highlights how these ad experiences keep users within the platforms they’re using. As a result, brands may try to maximize their presence and campaigns on services like Spotify, building a connected ecosystem of content.

Product Sampling

Beauty brands are eyeing product sampling via voice to deliver their product directly into the hands of consumers.

Especially as consumers strengthen their online shopping behaviors, sampling through voice devices is one way to reach consumers who aren’t stepping foot inside stores.

In June 2020, NARS Cosmetics partnered with Send Me a Sample to pilot a voice commerce ad for Spotify UK mobile listeners who had Alexa or Google smart speakers. Customers listened to the ad on the Spotify mobile app, and if interested in the sample, they launched the separate Send Me a Sample voice application on a smart speaker to order the sample blush, lipstick, or mascara.

Similarly, in October, Estée Lauder launched a campaign that allowed Spotify users listening on Google Home devices to verbally request a sample of its new beauty serum. After hearing the ad, the listeners navigated to the Send Me a Sample action. The voice ad was just one component of the campaign network that also included traditional audio ads, a microsite,and custom playlist content.

However, these sampling experiences do currently require users to shift from one experience to another by switching from Spotify to the third-party sampling application on the smart speaker. Although these examples have seen success, we see the process becoming more streamlined if streaming platforms enable these capabilities directly to reduce friction for listeners.

Couponing & Commerce

Promotion and couponing, both timeless cornerstones of marketing, are getting upgraded with voice. In August 2020, Unilever’s Suave and Coors Light tested voice-activated ads, branded “on command ads,” on NBCUniversal’s new Peacock streaming service. Select Comcast subscribers interacted with the ads through the voice technology in their remotes. Viewers who said, “Save With Suave” in response to the Suave ad received a $5 coupon to use for Suave products at Target.

Pharma company Bayer took sampling a step further toward driving purchase with interactive smart speaker ads for the Berocca vitamin brand. Amazon Echo smart speakers users listening to Global Radio stations who heard an audio ad about the Berocca products can ask Alexa for more information about the Berocca Boost line or to order the product. In the future, we see couponing being elevated with targeted data based on location or information beyond demographics.

Where Voice-Enabled Ads Are Headed Next

The few voice-enabled ads that have been implemented are only scratching the surface of advertising potential.

As these experiences transcend simple “yes” or “no” responses and jump to channels beyond the smart speaker, companies will soon be able to tap into a larger ecosystem of interactivity.

Beyond “Yes” and “No”

Currently, the examples listed above include user responses that are limited to several words or a short phrase. In the future, we see listeners uttering longer freeform responses or invocations within a more elaborate ad experience. For example, to gather information, different types of engagements like polls and quizzes could help generate data on listeners’ attitudes and preferences towards a brand or product.

Ultimately, multi-turn experiences can encourage listeners to engage in an extended dialogue with a brand, where appropriate. For example, an ad could contain a mini voice application or link to a voice app that users can directly navigate to without leaving a streaming platform like Spotify. As brands like Cadbury and TripAdvisor position voice experiences as marketing campaign extensions, bringing this functionality into their media strategies is a logical next step. A truly voice-enabled ad experience is within reach.

Back to the TV

NBCUniversal Peacock is already innovating TV advertising to upend the passive relationship between the screen and the viewer. And rightfully so: 52% of smart speaker owners are controlling their TVs with voice commands, illustrating that customers are getting comfortable delegating tasks to voice assistants. More TVs are integrating voice capabilities into remotes and connecting to Alexa and Google Assistant, and we expect advertisers to leverage this trend with novel commercial formats.

With TV visuals, advertisers can create more sophisticated CTAs and messaging. For example, NBCUniversal Peacock’s ad with Coors Light encouraged viewers to say “Get Coors Light Delivered,” which then instructed them to input their phone numbers to find stores that deliver the beer. 

Eventually, we see voice-enabled TV ads playing a bigger role during major and live events. For example, a sports apparel brand can offer viewers ways to purchase a new jersey or shoe during a live game. Or, digital entertainment companies could leverage moments like the Academy Awards or Grammys to encourage pre-ordering or purchasing streaming content. 

The TV can legitimately become a voice-enabled storefront. 

On-the-Go Ad Experiences

On-the-go voice ads are a near possibility as voice technology migrates to smart hearables and smart car consoles. Drivers listening to streaming services through their in-car assistants or customers sporting earbuds may be served with geo-targeted ads.

For example, a customer listening to music who is in the vicinity of a fast-food restaurant might get served with an ad or a coupon encouraging them to drop by for a meal. Or a driver near a car dealership might hear an ad about the newest cars ready for test drives.

When brands leverage real-time data, they can reach consumers at the right place and time.

Progressive Interactive Storytelling

Many consumers are familiar with how brands build stories across multiple ads (think of Super Bowl teasers and then the multiple plot extensions that happen during spots in the big game). What if you could do that but in a manner that’s personalized to the user, responsive to choices they’ve made in previous ads? Ads can be a perfect format for a proven mechanic in voice-enabled storytelling (“choose your own adventure”), where a user’s experience around characters within a brand story builds over time in a participatory fashion. 

How Will Your Brand Adopt Voice?

Audio advertising is due for a major refresh, and voice technology is forging the future of the category. Whether your brand is thinking about driving awareness or innovating in commerce, voice-enabled ads are a unique opportunity to get ahead. If you’re interested in learning more about how voice can grow your brand, contact us at hello@rain.agency.