Spotify debuts voice-enabled audio ads with Unilever
Spotify is testing voice-enabled audio ads for one of its own podcasts and another separate one for Unilever, allowing listeners to take action by saying a specific phrase during commercials. Although rival Pandora is also testing a similar feature, it hasn’t yet done so with any brands.
Spotify’s feature, which debuts today, will only work if the person listening has their microphone enabled, the company says. A listener saying “Play now” when prompted by a specific AXE audio commercial from Unilever will cause the streaming service to play a curated playlist from the brand (which come with commercials). Afterward, the mic is turned off, Spotify says.
“Voice commands are becoming second nature to us, just as swiping on a tablet or phone already is today,” says Leslie Walsh, exec director of strategy at agency Episode Four, who was not involved with this project but has been watching the voice space closely. “While the ‘Play now’ voice command is a shiny new feature, as with all new shiny things in tech, brands need to make sure they have something of value to offer to listeners before jumping on it.”
Walsh adds that at the end of the day, Spotify is still serving an ad to listeners. “If the playlist or podcast isn’t relevant, or better than what a listener is already listening to, then people will just see it as a nuisance rather than a utility,” she says.
Tom Edwards, chief digital and innovation officer at agency Epsilon, says Spotify’s latest move to enable voice-enabled audio ads is smart, but believes some hurdles remain.
“Consumers want ease, convenience,” Edwards says. “If the voice ads are relevant and based on affinity of the listener, then this could be seen as a value-add, but some education or step-by-step instructions may be required for some users, especially if they have to adjust settings on their device.”
“For most, it will not be an issue, but preparing for all user scenarios and a frictionless path for consumers will be critical to drive engagement,” he adds.
There is precedent for Spotify’s “Play now” feature, Edwards says, pointing to similar experiences with Apple’s Siri and its ability to extend native applications through voice. “Consumers can set their own intents via Siri to activate a specific action within an app,” he says. “The Spotify experience adds a monetization angle to that experience.”
The latest figures from the IAB say that digital audio captured $935 million in U.S. ad revenue during the first half of 2018, up 31 percent year-over-year. With such growth, companies such as Spotify, Pandora and iHeartRadio are all vying to capture the largest piece of that pie, which in turn is leading to new innovations in the digital audio ad arena. Brands can now target people based on what music they’re listening to, and then measure how effective those ads were, for example. Although such features are pedestrian elsewhere in digital advertising, they’re fairly new for digital audio.