Pandora’s interactive voice ads now unlock premium audio features

Pandora is expanding the scope of its interactive voice-based advertising today, launching the service in beta for more listeners and advertisers, while adding a new tool that enables free users to access premium features when they use their voice.

The launch comes as audio-streaming platforms and advertisers seek new ways to monetize listeners through deeper engagement which is also easier to measure.

Pandora, which was acquired by SiriusXM for $3.5 billion nearly two years ago, launched an early-stage pilot for interactive voice ads back in December, designed to bring two-way engagement to brands. For example, an advertiser trying to sell beds could ask the user whether they would like to hear tips on how to get a good night’s sleep, to which the listener could respond “yes” or “no.”

Now, however, Pandora will allow users to unlock on-demand music search with their voice, a feature that is usually reserved for those on a paid subscription.

Premium access

Premium access is already available to ad-supported users who are manually searching (typing) for specific songs or albums — if they agree to watch a video advertisement, they can get access to the specific music that they’re looking for. Now, this feature is extending to interactive voice ads, meaning that free users who search for a specific track with their voice will be invited to watch a video ad. If the user responds with an affirmative, the ad will play and then whatever song they requested will stream immediately after. If they respond with a “no,” then the original radio-like (i.e. not on-demand) music will continue to play.

Brands on board for the beta include AT&T, Doritos, KFC, Lane Bryant, Purex Laundry Detergent, Unilever, T-Mobile, The Home Depot, Volvo,  Xfinity, Acura, among others.

Interactive voice ads are built on Pandora’s own voice assistant, called Voice Mode, which launched exactly one year ago today. Similar to Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant et al, Voice Mode responds to a command (“Hey Pandora”) and natural language requests, such as “play something different” or “add this song to my BBQ playlist.” Pandora users who opt-in to Voice Mode through their app’s settings will automatically have access to interactive voice ads.

It is worth noting that the interactions within the voice ads are currently pretty basic, and are restricted to simple “yes / no” responses, though it will understand variations such as “sure,” “why not,” and “okay.”

“We are starting with a very simple ‘yes/no’ format as listeners get used to hearing and interacting with voice ads,” Claire Fanning, VP for Ad product strategy at Pandora, told VentureBeat. “It’s a totally new concept to them, so we need to keep it simple as this behavior modifies.”

In the future, such ads could become more conversational, with back-and-forth discussions between advertisers and consumers helping to solicit feedback on products and brands, and perhaps feed into broader market research campaigns. While Pandora’s plans might not evolve precisely in this direction, it helps to illustrate some of the options that may be on the table in the future.

“The possibilities are endless, but we are sensitive to the fact that we are asking consumers to implement a new behavior,” Fanning added.

Measurement

Spotify too has been dabbling with interactive voice ads, kicking off a test with Unilever last year, while the  Pandora rival last month launched an interesting new initiative in the U.K., whereby listeners can interact with audio ads from cosmetic company Nars to request product samples directly to their home.

It’s clear that there is a growing push toward making audio-based advertising more engaging and (thus) lucrative, particularly with podcasting continue to surge in popularity. To make audio advertising more alluring to brands, it needs to be more measurable similar to how “clicks” and “taps” can be monitored with screen-based advertising. Indeed, just because an audio ad is playing, doesn’t mean anyone is actively listening to it, which is why soliciting vocal input from the user could help streaming platforms such as Pandora and Spotify increase advertising spend.

But more than that, audio-based advertising is often a hands-free experience, with the user perhaps sitting on the other side of a room or otherwise not actively “looking” at a screen. Being able to engage a listener at a distance, as they paint their ceiling or drive to work, opens up a whole world of opportunities.

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