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Are Voice Ads Going Too Far?

Are Voice Ads Going Too Far?

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Interactive ads aren’t exactly new, and audio ads have been a core marketing element for brands at least since radio started transitioning to digital audio. But interactive voice ads are a relatively new frontier for ad tech companies and brands alike.

Pandora, along with its ad tech partners, made the first major foray into interactive audio ads last month. Using its own voice technology (originally designed to allow hands-free use of the music app), Pandora is working with Instreamatic and AdsWhizz to provide programmatic voice ads and instructions for the interactive element. 

In an era of heightened concerns regarding consumer privacy (a la GDPR and Facebook scrutiny), interactive voice ads represent a double edged sword. How can brands and media companies realize the benefit of highly engaging audio ads without risking the alienation of their audience? 

Pandora Makes the Big Move

The introduction of interactive audio ads wasn’t a surprise; Pandora announced the test nearly a year ago, in April 2019, with plans to launch in Q4. In early December, the test ads started to go live. 

“Pandora  has begun to test a new type of advertising format that allows listeners to respond to the ad by speaking aloud,” Sarah Perez explains at TechCrunch. “In the new ads, listeners are prompted to say ‘yes’ after the ad asks a question and a tone plays. The ads will then offer more information about the product or brand in question. The ads begin by explaining what they are and how they’ll work. They then play a short and simple message followed by a question to which listeners are supposed to respond.”

Engaging examples abound. DiGiorno is running pizza-themed jokes, asking consumers to respond for the punchline. Wendy’s is asking if consumers are hungry. Mattress brands are offering sleep tips. 

The benefits for both engagement and metrics are clear. “The company believes these types of ads will be more meaningful as they force listeners to pay attention,” Perez concludes. “For the brand advertisers, voice ads offer a way to more directly measure how many people an ad reached — something that’s not possible with traditional audio ads, which by their nature aren’t clickable.”

The Risk and Reward of Interactive Voice Ads

The potential for brands to increase engagement with their audience through interactive audio ads can’t exactly be understated. One survey in 2019 found that 39 percent of those who responded to a voice ad (“yes”, meaning “I want to hear more”) went on to purchase the product later.

“The ad format arrives at a time when consumers have become more comfortable talking to digital voice assistants, like Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant,” Perez continues. “There’s also an increased expectation that services we interact with will support voice commands.” Many consumers enjoy this interaction, and the numbers show they are responding to it even in advertising. Voice assistant usage was at 3.3 billion in 2019; this year, experts expect half of all searches to be done through voice. 

But the potential for reward does not come without risk. 

Sensitivity to consumer privacy is higher than ever, with GDPR in effect and FAANG companies under close scrutiny and “Consumers’ appetite for interactive voice advertisements is still largely untested,” Perez concludes. Spotify ran a much more limited test of voice ads last year, and Amazon has limited voice ads on Alexa out of a fear of alienating consumers. 

Either way, the format is set to outpace traditional audio ads – the only question is how brands and ad tech companies will use them smartly, without stirring up the consumer fears associated with highly personalized advertising.