Amazon Echo Gains Sponsored Messages Ad Platform

Voice analytics firm VoiceLabs on Thursday rolled out the advertising platform, Sponsored Messages, for Amazon Echo, giving brands a way to engage with consumers using the voice-activated device. 

The platform launches with ad partners ESPN, Progressive Insurance, and Wendy's, each signing "long-term" agreements, said Adam Marchick, CEO at VoiceLabs.

Here's how it works: someone listening to a podcast might not hear a sponsored 6-second advertisement such as "Thank you for supporting us by listening, and thank you to our sponsor, Progressive, until the fifth time.

Five podcasts later, the listener might hear a 15-second message by the spokesperson Flo from Progressive.

Consumers actively engage with the device, unlike radio, which Marchick believes will become a key advantage.

The advertising platform runs on top of the company's analytics platform for Alexa. In more than one million tests with sponsors, the feedback has been overall positive, Marchick said.

"Out of a million experiments, less than five have said 'hey, what's this ad doing here,'" he said.

Marchick, who is responsible for running some of the first advertisements on Facebook, realizes audio ads on Echo are new and expects a lot of discussion around the model.

One key piece of data that will become crucial for search marketers is not yet available -- the ability to identify when Echo owners searched for a product or a service on the device or on their smartphone after hearing the sponsored message.

An add-to-cart feature at the end of Sponsored Messages aims to drive purchases through Echo, but Marchick said Amazon has yet to make that data available to brands.

Amazon does not allow for identify management, similar to the way it does on the Web, so "we're creating new measurement capabilities for voice, similar to the way we figured out how to measure engagement such as 'likes' and 'impressions' in newsfeeds because none of that really existed," he said.

Although it is impossible to measure searches after hearing Sponsored Messages today, the hope is that Amazon will evolve to add identify management.  

VoiceLabs, which has more than 1,300 Google Assistant and Alexa developers, also plans to partner with several market research firms to create proprietary measurement capabilities to show brand lift and potential purchase lift from the advertising.

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