In a voice controlled future, where do the ads go?

Online advertising is about to change forever. . .

There has been widespread consensus that Amazon’s Alexa was the winner of CES2017 (though we shouldn’t underestimate what Google will do with Home). With direct access to the internet through speech, voice interfaces will change online advertising forever.

At present, online ads usually involve a visible distraction, a banner or an interruption on your screen that you have to click to either view the ad, or to banish it altogether.

Voice control removes the need for the screen, and with it the visible web page – meaning there is no longer an intermediary step between our search and our result.

Up until now, this intermediary step is where the ads lived.

In a voice controlled future, where do the ads go?

All the digital assistants are currently impressive and are set to become more so. Each time we use them, we train them – the AI gets better, as does the speech recognition.

Increased use brings increased usefulness – increased usefulness likely leads to ubiquity.

If speech becomes a major, or even the primary method of interacting with the internet, where does that leave the advertising model?

Very few of us will tolerate Alexa or her cousins reading out unsolicited ads in our homes. Although a premium subscription service is possible of course – something akin to Spotify (where the free account plays ads every few songs but premium users get it ad free). Would free users of a voice operated digital assistant agree to hear ads after a certain number of uses? It’s not a very appealing idea – no one wants invasive advertising getting in their way, especially not at home in what has, up until now at least, been regarded as your private space.

It seems more likely that the advertising opportunity will be found not with the device or platform itself but in the data it gathers and how it influences what we are shown during our other interactions with the internet. Voice control is perhaps the most natural and intuitive way we have of using the internet. Through what we say, and how we say it, the data gleaned from your searches and uses online mean advertisers and our service providers are better informed about us and their advertising can be better targeted at us.

Targeted advertising, based on previous searches, purchase history and website visits informed through your digital assistant are likely the way things will go. Any visual form of advertising, on your tablet or computer or, for example, on a screen on your aeroplane seat, or a digital advertising board at your bus stop, could be targeted at you and triggered when you are near. And what if there’s more than one person at the stop? Simply pool their data and deliver the most appropriate ads for the randomly assembled group.

Ads might even be triggered by other devices listening out for your (fairly) unique vocal signature. Ubiquitous high quality speech recognition could be massive for targeted advertising. There are other ways of triggering identification too: your phone, your contactless card, your passport, or an RFID chip in your train or cinema ticket – or in your clothing. Any of these could activate display ads tailored specifically to you. (It doesn’t have to be personal to you either, it could be ‘personal’ to the product you’re carrying. The RFID chip in your phone, for example, could trigger ads from your phone’s manufacturer – or their rivals). 

There is a massive opportunity for highly targeted advertising which could work well for both advertisers and us. This potentially opens up advertising to niche areas that previously wouldn’t have the budget for blanket coverage. If you can target the one person who is interested in that one product or service through one ad, then that’s a huge success.

The visual landscape of what each of us see around us, at least in terms of advertising, will be different. We will all get slightly different experiences on the same walk through town. In a sense, that’s not so different to how things are now – we are attuned to our own interests and notice these things more anyway but with targeted advertising, much of this selection will be done for us by algorithms based on our previous, often voice based, interactions with the internet.

Voice control brings about the loss of the web page as a visual surface through which we interact online which will force advertisers to change the way they work. They will need to be smarter about the ways in which they approach us, using data and targeting or else they will lose out.

By making our interactions with the internet smoother and more seamless – through speech rather than surfaces – we get a more integrated, immediate and less invasive experience. This forces advertising to be more specific which in turn could save advertisers money while increasing the effectiveness of their ads.

Kev Cooke is Managing Editor at DISRUPTIONHUB