Brands welcome voice-enabled ads for more organic mobile experiences


The JetBlue voice-enabled ad

Voice-enabled ads are shaping up as an interesting new advertising option on mobile, with promises of helping marketers move beyond the static banner ad to take meaningful advantage of the unique features found on smartphones.

While voice recognition mobile applications have been around for several years, brands such as JetBlue, GMs Sonic and Toys “R” Us are among the first to make voice a significant focus of their mobile ad campaigns this year. With early results showing voice ads can help start a conversation with smartphone owners, next year should see a significant jump in the number of campaigns leveraging voice recognition.

Brands are looking to differentiate from standard display and voice is one way to do that,” said Nikki Hawke, director of marketing at Juice Mobile, Toronto. More brands will definitely embrace voice-activated ad units next year.

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It isnt going to replace all standard display or mobile ad units, but its another tactic that should be added to the mix, she said. Especially for brands that want to engage consumers and spark a conversation around their brand.

Utilizing the voice ad is clearly a way for a brand to stand out, consumers are very intrigued and play the ad multiple times to see the extent of responses its a conversation starter.

A natural extension
To date, much of the mobile industrys efforts on finding an alternative to or enhancing the experience for banner ads which are small and intrusive on smartphone screens has focused on leveraging the touch screen capabilities of smartphones to drive engagement via swiping and scrolling and on location features to make campaigns more relevant.

However, the user experience can still leave much to be desired if the touch features do not work seamlessly or if users do not want to share their location.

Voice, if used well, could give brands a way to make their ads more exciting and interactive at the same time.

Voice ads, speaking to an ad, is a natural modality of interaction for mobile, because it mimics what phones were designed for voice communication, said Mahi de Silva, CEO of Opera Mediaworks, San Mateo, CA. It is also a natural extension of popular voice-driven interfaces like Siri used by millions of consumers every day.

It’s proven itself to be a powerful way of engaging mobile consumers, he said. We’ve seen that brands that use cutting-edge technology to engage consumers enhance their brand reputation for being innovative.

Chatting up consumers
As consumers spend increasing amounts of time on their smartphones viewing the kind of long-form content that previously was almost exclusively available on televisions, there is growing convergence between the TV and mobile channels.

However, on the advertising side, this has mostly meant the growing appearance of video ads on mobile screens that mostly replicate the TV ad experience.

This is starting to change as the options for leveraging voice in more unique ways continues to grow.

For example, in the fall JetBlue and agency Mullen partnered with Mobile Theory and Opera MediaWorks on a voice activation unit for the smartphone that was designed to teach consumers how to speak like a pigeon as part of a larger multi-channel campaign drawing similarities between most air travel today with the exception of JetBlue, according to the campaign and unappreciated pigeons (see story).

In Canada, General Motors Sonic brand worked with Juice Mobile using Nuance Communications technology – for a voice-enabled ad unit that is integrated with Apples voice service Siri. The ad was designed to involve consumers in a dialogue using voice recognition and providing real-time responses based on the consumers feedback.

When users clicked on a Sonic banner ad, the unit expanded and asked questions such as, Want to hear a joke or Want to hear some music and responded based on what users say. After a few questions, the ad shows users some of Sonics features.

Toys “R” Us just this week unveiled ads on the sites for, and others that prompt them to answer questions about the child for whom they are shopping, with mobile users receiving the prompts via voice recognition using Mobile Theorys technology. Users then receive recommendations for toys that can be purchased on

Interest grows
Going forward, voice is likely to be just one key feature for well-rounded mobile ads. For example, the Juice Mobile ad unit can also be layered with geo-location, search, video, music and dynamic social media feeds.

Since voice-ad technology can leverage any type of sound recognition from a persons voice to a favorite TV show to the sound of a revving motorcycle engine, the key for marketers will be to not use the technology just for the sake of using it, but figuring out how best to leverage it to start a conversation with consumers.

Voice ads along with video ads, were headline innovations in mobile advertising in 2013, Mr. de Silva said. Major brands both here in the U.S., in Europe and Asia have embraced this ad format and we expect it will grow significantly in 2014.

We see a strong pipeline of interest in voice ad technology and expect that the spend in 2014 will be significant multiples of what we have seen in 2013, he said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York


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