Are Ads Coming To Virtual Assistants?

How do you feel about adverts? Do you skip past them when possible or do you find them a useful source of information? If you’re in the second category then you might be happy about one of the findings in the Edison/NPR 2022 Smart Audio report.

According to the report:

53% of smart speaker owners who have heard an ad on their device say they are likely to respond to ads on their smart speaker

That figure will have advertisers rubbing their hands together. Imagine being able to send a targeted advert to a user who’s not just paying attention to but actually having a conversation with your advertising medium. And having that ad welcomed rather than considered a nuisance.

There’s bound to be a lot of pressure from ad agencies for the smart speaker makers to embrace embedded advertising in their chatbot response stream. Will the makers resist or will they welcome the income?

Personally, I hope they resist. Going down this path might bring short term revenue but risks undermining the whole market for virtual asssitants.

At the moment, my Alexa occasionally offers to recommend something for me to buy; I tell her to shut up and that’s an end to it. But if such exhortations became more frequent, or if adverts were served without permission, Alexa would go straight in the trash.

Apart from the distracting and intrusive nature of adverts, there’s a privacy issue. Smart speaker makers might reassure users that they’re not collating a personal advertising profile of them based on their interactions, but would users believe it? The companies have spent a large amount time and effort to counteract exactly such Big Brother fears.

If ads are to come to virtual assistants and smart speakers then they should be strictly opt in with strong, transparent privacy controls.