Market Spotlight: Advertising Has More Draw When Speech Is Included

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Advertising has long relied on the catchy jingle or the memorable catchphrase to forge a connection between companies and potential customers. Now, as advertising dollars move from traditional venues like print and broadcast media to more digital channels like web, social media, and mobile devices, voice technologies are hard at work ensuring advertisers that their messages are getting out.

This is especially true in the video ads that are becoming a staple on social media sites like Facebook. The social networking giant a year ago launched an auto-captioning feature for video ads, meaning that the videos’ audio content automatically appears as subtitles while the ads play. This is an important step in making sure that content is received, given that most Facebook video ads are viewed on mobile devices as part of subscribers’ news feeds with the sound turned off.

In launching the service a year ago, Facebook cited an internal study showing that 41 percent of video ads were basically meaningless if they couldn’t be heard. With Facebook’s captioning feature, the premise is that advertisers can still get their messages across through video ads that don’t require sound to communicate effectively.

Natalie Petouhoff, a vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, thinks captioning is a good idea. “Often people want to watch a video but are in a public place and can’t turn up the volume,” she says. “Having the words will help those that can’t listen to the audio part hear the message,” she says.

Cognitively, there can also be some benefit to people who learn and process information better when it is presented as text, Petouhoff says. “Having [captions] will help those who process information better via words,” she states.

Facebook’s captioning is powered by voice recognition software that turns the spoken word into text that runs along the bottom of the ad. Facebook’s captioning service lets page administrators edit the subtitles it suggests. When page administrators upload videos, a “Generate” button in the video editor enables them to instantly add subtitles. Facebook breaks down the subtitles snippet by snippet, allowing administrators to review suggestions, play back specific segments, and edit the captions for accuracy before saving them to the video. Through machine learning, as page administrators manually enter corrections, Facebook’s system will improve with time.

Facebook’s internal tests show that captioned video ads increase video view time by an average of 12 percent. When A&W Canada used the automated captioning tool as part of a video advertising campaign to let consumers know that its chickens are raised without antibiotics, watch time for the videos increased by 25 percent.

Video ads are an increasingly important piece of the marketing mix at many companies. Every day, Facebook subscribers view more than 100 million hours of video on the site. Video—and video ads—are also an important component of other social media outlets, including YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and Twitter.

Petouhoff cites other benefits in using video. Marketers who use video grow revenue more than 49 percent faster than those who do not, and shoppers who view video are 1.81 times more likely to purchase than nonviewers, she points out.

Additionally, companies should seriously consider video advertising “because advertisers cite a 40 percent increase in purchases as a result of video, specifically in the categories of apparel, home goods, and electronics,” according to Petouhoff.

Even Amazon in May launched Video Direct, which allows content creators to upload videos for the millions of members of Amazon’s Prime Video service to watch. Amazon requires that captioning be included in the video, and, in true e-commerce fashion, it will refer users to online captioning firms that will create the necessary caption files for a fee.

Voice Adds Interaction

But for all their appeal, video ads, even with captioning, are still only a one-way form of communication between companies and consumers. That was why there was so much buzz around Nuance Communications in April 2013 when it launched a product called Voice Ads, which allowed consumers to have a limited conversation with companies directly through the ads they run in digital channels.

When the ad appears, it prompts the consumer to participate by speaking to it. From there, the conversation drives the experience, which is tailored to meet both the needs of the brand and the consumer.

Nuance Voice Ads are optimized for the unique capabilities of the mobile device. They can even take advantage of location data and data from the phone’s microphone so that if, for example, the noise level at a particular location is too high, the app might show a static display ad instead of a voice ad.

Behind the scenes, the advertiser has to write the script that the ad will follow. Thanks to Nuance’s technology, the ads take advantage of natural language processing, so they will still understand the input even if the viewer doesn’t use the exact wording that the advertiser expected. Plus, Nuance allows advertisers to improve the system by uploading their own terminology.

Today, the development tools for conversational interfaces, including voice ads, can be accessed via Nuance’s Mix platform, a Nuance spokesperson said.

But Nuance isn’t the only company offering voice ads. Ads powered by speech recognition are quickly becoming a tool of mobile advertisers.

Washington-based XAPPmedia, provider of an interactive audio advertising service, in March 2014 also launched its XAPP Ads, which present branded content followed by an opportunity for consumers to interact with ads by voice to receive more content, be connected directly with offers, or get back to more listening. Voice-activated actions include call now, download an app, send an email, get more information, make a purchase, or receive a coupon.

The company claims that XAPP Ads not only increase conversion and consumer engagement rates but also help advertisers reach mobile audio listeners who, more than 80 percent of the time, cannot see or interact with their phones’ screens.

XAPP Ads can be created in minutes through a cloud-hosted point-and-click interface. They leverage traditional advertising audio creative and can also be paired with onscreen tiles, but the key focus is allowing consumers to respond to audio advertising by voice.

NPR was the first publisher to make XAPPmedia’s interactive audio technology available to its advertisers; Lumber Liquidators was the first company to use such advertising. Other Internet radio providers, including Slacker Radio and Spain’s Audioemotion, have since joined the list. Jacobs Media, the provider of the jacapps mobile apps development platform for the radio industry, also integrated XAPP Ads into its platform.

Among the dozens of other advertisers that have turned to XAPP Ads are Ford, Amazon, StubHub, United Healthcare, and Fandango.

“XAPPmedia’s interactive audio technology is the most natural user experience for mobile consumers. They don’t have to look at their screen. They hear the ad, and if they are interested in an offer or suggested content, they simply speak and it is delivered instantly. It’s all hands-free and eyes-free engagement,” said Elisa Escobedo, CEO of Audioemotion, in a statement. 

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