May 2, 2022, NEW ORLEANS — Ads on a voice assistant like Alexa or Siri can be more effective if the assistant is seen as the medium of the ad, not the source. However, user motivations play a role in how these persuasive messages are received, according to new research in Prime Minister’s Proceedings ACM Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (CHI 2022).
In 2017, Google faced backlash from Google Home users who felt voice assistant (AV) commercials were inappropriate. It seemed that generating ad revenue on AVs – like on search engines – was not feasible.
The research presented today indicates that it may still be possible to deliver effective advertisements on AVs. He found that ads are better received if the VA is a medium – like radio – and not the source of the ads.
Ad reactions depended on whether the user was information-driven (one who asks about the weather or news) or socially-driven (one who uses AVs to cope with loneliness or just to chat) .
Socially-motivated users see AVs as “companions among them,” according to S. Shyam SundarJames P. Jimirro Professor of Media Effects at Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State and co-director of Media Effects Research Lab.
“A lot of skills have been added to AVs that are very social in nature,” Sundar said. “You can have a casual conversation, ask them to tell a joke, thank them when they say ‘Good morning’ to you, etc.”
If the VA is promoting a brand amid such social exchange, it’s not so off-putting, according to Eugene Cho, assistant professor at the College of New Jersey and lead author of the study, who worked with Sundar.
The researchers recruited 264 participants who were familiar with AVs for their experiment. They were presented with two different scenarios in which a specific question was asked to Siri. They listened to Siri’s response to the question, which was followed by an ad related to the query.
Example: When a participant asked, “Siri, how can I make pumpkin spice latte?” Siri responded with the recipe, followed by an ad for Starbucks and how to get a Pumpkin Spice Latte using the company’s app. Randomly selected, some users heard the ad as a human spokesperson and others heard Siri’s voice relaying the ad directly.
Those with high informational motives responded negatively to ads when Siri was the source — as opposed to the human spokesperson. On the other hand, social motivations led to a “higher social presence” when Siri served the ads.
“Motivations are related to usage,” Cho said. “[For Google Home], maybe it wasn’t the ad that was so bad. Perhaps it was the content and the context that were the problem.
These results are particularly relevant for companies like Google whose primary source of revenue comes from advertising.
“We understand that ads are inevitable for their business model,” Sundar said. “We want the way ads are delivered to be more human-centric and contextually relevant. Convert ads into a service. That’s how you can be both commercially viable and socially responsible.
Sundar said the ad shouldn’t be a “sneak attack”. Through their research, researchers advocate a user-responsive approach that is more helpful and less misleading.
According to Cho, companies that manufacture AVs have the ability to learn more about their users and provide them with an experience that works for them. “Instead of serving ads indiscriminately, they can personalize ad delivery based on user motivations,” she added.
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