Spotify launches voice-enabled ads on mobile devices in a limited US test

Spotify is increasing its investment in voice technology, as hinted at earlier this week on the company’s earnings call with investors. The streaming service today is announcing the launch of voice-enabled advertisements, which will encourage the listener to say a verbal command in order to take action on the ad’s content. Initially, the audio ads will direct listeners to a branded Spotify playlist or a podcast, the company says.

Some of the first voice ads being tested come from Unilever’s Axe and Spotify Studios. One ad, starting today, will direct users to the Spotify Original podcast, Stay Free: The Story of the Clash. Another will promote a branded playlist on Spotify related to a Unilever Axe ad campaign later this month.

For now, Spotify is only focused on content promotion within its own service — not anything outside of its app.

These voice ads will only be available to a subset of Spotify’s free mobile listeners in the U.S. during the test period, and only to those who have already enabled Spotify’s voice controls. These may have already been turned on, in those cases where the listener uses Spotify’s in-app voice assistant technology to search for music and podcasts.

Users can choose to opt out of voice ads in the Settings menu, if they prefer, under “Voice-Enabled Ads.” (A “Manage Ad Settings” button also displays on the ad while it’s running to make this setting easier to find.) Listeners can also choose to entirely disable the microphone access in the mobile device’s Settings.

When the ad runs, it will encourage users to check out the content by saying “Play Now” and give the listener time to respond. If the user says anything else except “Play Now,” a tone will sound and the mic is turned off. The ad break then continues as usual.

Spotify believes voice ads will allow it to capitalize on consumers’ growing interest in using voice commands and smart assistants — areas where all the major tech companies are investing with their on-device assistants and smart speakers for the home.

“We believe voice — really across all platforms — are critical areas of growth, particularly for music and audio content,” Spotify co-founder and CEO Daniel Ek told investors on Monday. “And we’re investing in it, and we’re testing ways to explore and refine our offering in this arena,” he noted.

In addition, the company believes voice ads can help marketers reach their audience at a time when people are being more conscious about how much time they’re looking at their phone’s screen — and attempting “screen detoxes” where they aren’t picking up their device as often. Before, they may have otherwise seen a visual, could have tapped a link to learn more or could have searched for the advertiser’s content in some other fashion.

The current test is live in the U.S. only for free users of the Spotify app on iOS or Android. It uses ad technology Spotify built in-house, the company says. Spotify says it doesn’t have a pricing model at this alpha test stage.

Spotify isn’t the only music streaming service to test voice-enabled ads.

Last month, Pandora confirmed it would begin testing interactive voice ads later in 2019. In its case, the voice ads will ask listeners if they’d like to hear more about a product or service, and allow time for them to respond “yes” or “no.”

Voice technology is nearly ubiquitous these days — a recent report from Juniper Research said there are now 2.5 billion digital voice assistants in use, and that figure will grow to 8 billion by 2023. However, voice assistants today are doing our bidding by setting alarms and timers, playing music and news, controlling our smart home or delivering information we request — not trying to push us to do something the company wants us to do. It’s unclear, then, how consumers will respond to voice ads — that is, whether they’ll largely ignore these ads’ demands, hate them enough to disable them or if they’ll actively engage.

These early tests will help to uncover some of those insights, which could later inform how voice ads should work on other platforms, like our voice-enabled smart speakers.