Once upon a time, in the galaxy we live in, we had a device called voice recorder — used when we were unable to take notes. A one-way memory device which reduced gaps between hearing and writing, because we often speak about four times faster than we type/write.
As voice-enabled VR gets popular, will customers treat it like another communication vehicle and stay resilient to the ads such devices beam?
Once upon a time, in the galaxy we live in, we had a device called voice recorder — used when we were unable to take notes. A one-way memory device which reduced gaps between hearing and writing, because we often speak about four times faster than we type/write. Then somewhere on the technology’s march to progress (or domination), artificial intelligence (AI) happened as did voice recognition (VR). And today, VR has grown to actually offer up to 99% accuracy. Further down the aforementioned journey, devices got smarter: the voice would be heard, and machine learning and its higher version — deep learning — started figuring out how to respond with action-based on voice recognition of instructions.
The machines played music, answered search queries about the weather, road congestion, nearby restaurants, reminded us of appointments we had made, read out emails and even ordered stuff we wanted, ‘frictionless’. And in an effort to make living with an AI life form that can be summoned by voice as normal, marketers built personas for the technology, giving it names like Siri and Alexa, and making us call them with wake words like ‘Hey’ or ‘OK’. The same marketers also tried to ease our adoption by making tech forms visible, rounded and innocuous. All the while embedding the technology in what were, till now, sundry inanimate objects like the refrigerator, TV and so on.
Growth of voice-enabled assistants
We as a species, known for our unique ability to adapt and morph, matched step for step and are predicted to voice 30% of our search queries (across all platforms) by end-2018 and 50% by 2020. Podcasts are growing faster than Twitter and audio books are growing as fast as e-books. We seem to be flocking (like we used to around the storytellers of yore) to hear stories in ‘first person’ from the author herself/himself. Not only is voice recognition getting interesting, it is also sitting bang in the middle of our homes, gathering data about our choices, opinions, likes and dislikes; data that marketers would give their right hands to acquire and use. And thus has begun the adjunct race of how to normalise aural advertising without letting the ‘hear-er’ realise it. The first port of call in this has but obviously been ‘search queries’.
When we ask our voice activated devices for tips on cleaning the sauce/tea/wine spill, it not only offers relevant tips, it also suggests cleaning products that are available at the online platforms it has allegiance to (read Google or Amazon). And then insidiously eggs us on to order the same, with same day delivery and deduction of the amount from our already synced credit/debit cards. Google Home took a step towards paid advertising and told customers between weather and traffic reports that Beauty and the Beast had released at a theatre near them and called it ‘timely content’.
Burger King messed with Google Home in its TV ad by inserting the phrase, “Ok, Google, what is the Whopper burger?” and activated the device across the US homes (and in the process, won a Grand Prix at Cannes — the Oscars of advertising). Amazon Echo is rumoured to have opened the gates to advertisers this year (read, start to make money of all the user data it has acquired thus far). It has already programmed in responses like, “Okay, I can look for a toothpaste, like Colgate. What would you like?” and is reported to be in deep talks with Procter & Gamble.
The age of ad blocking
When newspapers added advertising to keep themselves cheap, we consumers adapted by becoming ad blind; when online search used advertising to keep itself free, we adapted again. The desire for the service far outweighed the onslaught of the unasked for pushing of brand communications.
The hypothesis is, that this is exactly the same path communication the voice-activated devices will eventually walk. Think about it: options for users would lie in asking for the first (paid) choice that the device offers (and get on with life) or listen to the drone till our choice arrives or switch the device off and shop online (like the old days). And if the primary reason for having a voice-activated device is control and convenience, it doesn’t take a guru to figure the choice we will make. The silver lining (for today, since tomorrow will be different) is that voice-activated devices are still not choices of the mainstream. And if the early adopters don’t glow in their reviews of it, the mainstream won’t catch on.
So chances are high that the current Goliaths in VR devices will keep their focus and energy around improving and perfecting the user experience. As some experts say, this still is the VR devices’ ‘honeymoon period’. Yes, in the times to come, the VR device experience will give marketing/ advertising its pound of flesh. Yes, we will live with ads being beamed at us from yet another medium. And yes, we will figure a way to ad blind ourselves (protect our sanity) like we have in the past!
By: Snehasis Bose
The author is SVP — planning, L&K Saatchi & Saatchi