NPR Is Running Voice Recognition-Enabled Ads | Adweek NPR Is Running Voice Recognition-Enabled Ads | Adweek
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NPR Is Running Voice Recognition-Enabled Ads

Will listeners talk back?

Illustration: Adrià Fruitós

What you say out loud may soon be marketing data, and here’s why: Voice recognition-enabled ads are fast becoming a tool of mobile advertisers who want to ramp up response rates that often fall well short of 1 percent. The futuristic promos quietly emerged late last year, as JetBlue and Toys “R” Us began employing them.

This week, National Public Radio will start running the ads on its smartphone app, which garners roughly a million monthly listeners. NPR has tested the audio spots during recent weeks and believes the ads—which will be heard at the end of news items—have captured the imaginations of its tech-savvy audience.

“People have had to wait for their phones to wake up and then tap on their screens to learn more from our sponsors,” said Bryan Moffett, vp of digital strategy and ad operations at National Public Media, an NPR subsidiary. “With these ads, you simply speak. When our test group heard [the call to action] ‘say download now’ or ‘say learn more,’ we universally heard them respond with ‘huh,’ sounding pleasantly surprised.”

Using technology from XappMedia, Moffett plans to charge a CPM rate “north of $20,” he said, for 15-second spots, which include the ability for the consumer to extend the ad with audio or video. Hardwood floors company Lumber Liquidators is a signed advertiser, though NPR has elected not to disclose other names.

“We have been demoing this for agencies and brands,” Moffett proclaimed, “and the reaction has been roundly positive.”

Lexus and Chevy owners who have NPR on their in-vehicle apps dashboard will also begin hearing ads that ask them to talk back. “Cars are an area that we have high hopes for,” Moffett said.

JetBlue’s marketing team thinks NPR’s sunny outlook is warranted. The airline’s voice-recognition mobile campaigns have “resulted in 50 percent more time spent with the brand than the average rich media experience,” said Rachel Allen, media director at Mullen, JetBlue’s ad agency.

James McQuivey, Forrester analyst, offered: “Mobile listeners’ eyes are not on the screens, and their hands are not on the device. So to create interactivity, you need a mechanism that’s consistent in how they are using the device— and the voice is the right mechanism. But the challenge is that it’s an utterly new behavior to ask listeners to react to. There will be all kinds of uncertainty about what will be on the other side of that interaction.”

Though tight-lipped about stats, NPR’s Moffett said he has tested multiple segments of his app’s listeners while creating copywriting guidelines for brands.

“I can tell you that our [non-voice-enabled] interstitial ads get clickthrough rates between 3 and 4 percent, and we won’t degrade that performance level or our listeners’ experience,” he said.

Which leaves the $64,000 question: Will they talk back?

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