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Ads arrive at Amazon Alexa

Advertisements are coming to a voice-enabled Amazon device near you.

Advertisements are coming to a voice-enabled Amazon device near you.

VoiceLabs, an analytics company dedicated to the development of voice-related artificial intelligence, recently launched Sponsored Messages. Their purpose? Helping Amazon Alexa developers monetize their app building efforts.

A handful of major brands have already jumped on board with the new ad platform. In an interview with MediaPost, VoiceLabs CEO Adam Marchick shared that Wendy’s, Progressive Insurance and ESPN have all inked “long-term” agreements.

So how do they work?

Sponsored Messages are built on the foundation of Amazon Alexa “skills,” which are essentially apps for the voice-activated platform. From news to games, there are thousands of skills available for integration in the Amazon marketplace.

As an example, say you’ve connected the Wall Street Journal’s Flash Briefing skill to your Alexa-enabled device. You won’t hear anything different the first few times. But after several more uses, a brief ad – no longer than six to 15 seconds – is served while you listen to the latest updates of world news and events.

“We took a page from one of our favorite companies, the Public Broadcasting Company, in thanking consumers for supporting Alexa developers and highlighting brand partners who are playing a role in supporting this budding ecosystem,” Marchick said on VoiceLabs’ official blog, describing the style of ads users can expect.

Ads are created for skills after developers put in their requests to join the VoiceLabs analytics platform. Once granted, they have the option to monetize their skills and choose the kinds of ads they’d like distributed.

With the content of each skill in mind, Sponsored Messages aim to serve relevant ads to Echo users. VoiceLabs also designed its platform with what it calls “intelligent insertion”. Ads won’t be served each time a user activates a skill, but rather will vary depending on the developer’s chosen preferences.

What differentiates Sponsored Messages from other auditory alternatives?

Engagement, according to Marchick, is the key difference between ads on voice-activated devices like Amazon Echo and its counterparts. Whether it’s Alexa, Siri or Cortana, you’re interacting with the technology to serve a particular need. This is what VoiceLabs believes gives voice-enabled tech a competitive advantage over more passive audio platforms such as radio or podcasts.

There are, however, still some limitations for potential advertisers looking to promote their brands on Amazon’s voice-enabled devices. Currently, Amazon policy only allows ads in skills that offer flash briefings, streaming music and streaming radio. According to Venture Beat, roughly 23 percent of Alexa’s available skills meet that criteria.

Amazon appears to be taking a measured approach when it comes to ads. In April, Burger King received criticism after releasing an ad taking advantage of viewers who own Google Home, Amazon Echo’s biggest competition thus far. In the commercial, a BK employee activates Google Assistant with the platform’s opening command and asks it to read a description of a Whopper sandwich.

What’s the significance?

As voice technology continues to improve, its user base continues to grow. The latest research by eMarketer indicates that voice-activated devices will be used by nearly 36 million Americans by the end of 2017. Compared to data they gathered last year, that’s an increase of nearly 130 percent.

Even more relevant is the fact that Amazon holds a strong command of the voice technology market. eMarketer’s research indicates that Amazon Echo will control approximately 71 percent of the voice-enabled speaker market in the United States this year. Its closest competitor, Google Home, trails significantly with a 24-percent market share.

Amazon’s enormous lead in the voice-technology market is also reflected in the number of apps available to its users. Over 13,000 skills have already been created for Alexa. In comparison, Microsoft recently launched its Cortana Skills Kits with just about 20 skills available, while Google Assistant has over 230 actions created by third-party developers.

With the rising popularity of Amazon Echo and other devices like it, the development of VoiceLabs’ ad platform is a must-watch for brands seeking innovative ways to reach their target audiences. Stay tuned as we continue to find new ways to reach your audience.

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