Nuance, a company known for its voice technology, is getting into the advertising business.
It’s launching a new product called Voice Ads, which brings Nuance capabilities to mobile advertising. These are ads that you can actually have a (limited) conversation with, potentially creating a much more interactive and fun advertising experience — which is particularly challenging for mobile advertisers who have to work with limited screen space.
The company isn’t ready to announce specific campaigns yet, but the team showed me a demo ad in a demo news app. The ad initially just looks like another mobile banner, but when you tap on it, it opens into a magic 8 ball promoting the fictional Alpha deodorant brand (with the slogan, “Don’t sweat it”). We asked questions like, “Is my girlfriend going to break up with me?” and the 8 ball would offer some follow-up questions before delivering an answer. (It was not very optimistic about this relationship.)
The ads can also take advantage of location data and data from the microphone — so for example, if the noise level is too high, the app might show you a regular ad instead of a voice ad.
Behind the scenes, the advertiser has to write a Q&A script that the ad can follow. Thanks to Nuance’s technology, the ads take advantage of natural language processing, so they will still understand questions even if the visitor doesn’t use the exact wording that the advertiser expected. Plus, Nuance allows advertisers to improve the system by uploading their own terminology.
The company has a number of partners in the ad industry, including agencies like Digitas, OMD, and Leo Burnett, as well as mobile ad companies Millennial Media, Jumptap and Opera Mediaworks, plus mobile ad server Celtra. Not only are those partnerships necessary in order to ensure that the Voice Ads actually work, but they should also be crucial to actually bringing advertisers on-board, especially since Nuance isn’t building out an ad sales team of its own.
The company is also trying to fit into existing ad infrastructure. It’s charging on a CPM basis (that’s cost-per-thousand-impressions), rather than trying to use its own engagement metric. And the voice functionality could be included as an additional feature in existing ads.