Speak to Me: Mobile, Voice, and Your Ad

We’ve long dreamed of being able to talk to our computers and have them respond. I suppose it is based on some deep need that we have to have an assistant or a Girl Friday or Jeeves the Butler or whatever – someone who is totally loyal and always willing to help with any request. The trouble with having a person of course, is that they tend to actually be people: they cost money and we end up feeling bad about just barking orders at them all the time. So, a computer surrogate that we can talk to is just perfect.

Of course, the big news here is that Apple released its latest iPhone with the Siri software built right into the interface. It’s getting a lot of attention, but Google has had a tool called Voice Search for a while now that provides many of the same functions. It isn’t quite as well integrated into the operating system, but it’s the same idea.

Quick side story: I went head-to-head last night between my Android and a friend’s iPhone in a noisy restaurant. And we’d been drinking cocktails. We asked it a few questions like “who was the 12th president” and gave them both commands to send texts. The Android performed perfectly. The iPhone struggled a bit and came up with a couple nonsense answers. One win for Android.

With the high-profile release of the iPhone, I think we can imagine that speaking-to-your-computer will become an increasingly popular interface. Fellow ClickZ columnist Crispin Sheridan wrote about the search engine optimization needs and opportunities that come up with the release of Siri. Let’s also think a bit about some of the other advertising opportunities that we may see in the future.

Paid Talking Ads?

The biggest question about Siri and advertising is simply: will there ever be paid ads served as a response? Most people I’ve talked to seem to feel that advertising would be totally unwelcome within Siri, but I’m not so sure. If we start thinking about the various things that we can imagine saying to Siri, there may be some places where ads might make sense.

For example, if you were to say “What are some good Italian restaurants in this area?” you can clearly see where an ad for a local restaurant would be valuable. Or, more likely, an ad for Yelp, which would then give you a list of favorites.

It may be a stretch, but we may eventually see people starting to use Siri for all sorts of queries. At some point, someone may say “what is a good car for a family of four?” which would clearly be valuable for a number of brands.

The place where it begins to get a bit creepy is if Siri were to respond back to simple commands with relevant ads. In the demo video for Siri, there’s a moment where a guy instructs Siri to send a text to his wife that he will be late. If Siri not only sent the text but also offered a link to a flower delivery service, it may be perfectly relevant, but maybe not accepted.

Increase in the Check-In?

One way I can clearly see Siri helping out is in earned media or word of mouth. One of the reasons people state for their dropping off usage of services like Foursquare is that the whole process of checking in has become more of a chore. The fact that you need to take out your phone, launch the application, wait for it to figure out where you are, list the local places, and so on is becoming a hassle.

If Siri, though, allows you to simply walk into a place and say “I’m here” or something similar, it seems like it would lower that barrier significantly. As well, if you can say “I’m here and the food smells great,” it would suddenly open up not just the fact that you checked in, but also the ability to provide real content. That means that services like Foursquare may get better, richer content and therefore be more valuable overall.

But, Will Siri Talk to You?

The final frontier in all of this is if Siri gets to a point where she (it?) begins to initiate conversations. This is a new way to think about the device and the service, and one that – if people accepted it – could open up a lot of new advertising opportunities.

Consider this scenario: Siri says “The Gap has a sale on right now. Should I get you some pants?” Or if Siri said “It’s Fred’s birthday. Do you want to send him a gift card for iTunes?”

Would you allow this? I think I would, within a certain amount of control of course. It is a clear shift in the perception of what your mobile phone is. Right now, people see their phones as devices that are totally under your control and all interactions are initiated by you. But that’s not really the case, right? If you get a text or a phone call, that is coming from the outside. The question is whether or not we can imagine a voice changing this dynamic. Would this simply be an updated version of telemarketing (which we have beaten to near extinction)? Or would this be simply an extension of the sort of targeted ads we see in Gmail?

Whatever the case, we can now see that there’s a new way to interact with your computer. This may end up being no big deal. But it may actually shift some of the use and the perception of what having a smartphone means, which would definitely open up some new opportunities.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.