Spotify is now testing a new type of ad campaign for free, ad-supported users on its popular music and podcast-streaming platform that will be interactive via voice input.
Showing up for users who have mic permissions enabled for the app, users will essentially be served up audio advertisements that promote content in place of some standard ads. Users will be able to check out the content by responding to a prompt and saying "Play Now" into the microphone on their handset or headphones. That will redirect the user to content that's been advertised.
Saying any phrase or words — or making any other sounds — that doesn't match the phrase asked for will cause the ad to play a tone, notifying users that their decision has been recognized. The mic turns off at that point before the standard advert continues.
Limited in scope …for now
For the time being, the test ads will only be served up to users who already have voice controls and features activated. That means that not every user is going to see them but also that they're fairly easy to opt out of. To turn off the ads simply requires users to navigate to the settings menu via the new "Voice-Enabled Ads" section listed among voice settings.
Similarly, the interactive ads won't be showing up every time even for users who want to keep those features active. That's because they're only being served up — for now — from a select few partners. Namely, Spotify's own Spotify Studios for its Stay Free: The Story of the Clash podcast and some ads from Unilever's AXE branding.
Is there an underlying trade-off here?
While many users will be annoyed or even concerned about giving any company access to their device's mic or the additional interruptions that will likely cause, the purpose of the new feature is to make ads more engaging. That's a direction that a large segment of the advertising market is taking or expected to take so it's not necessarily surprising.
Voice-interactive advertisements should also help set the company apart from competing apps and services as well as bolstering the companies behind those ads if the test goes smoothly.
More concerning to some users is whether or not Spotify will keep the option available for all users to opt-out. While there haven't been any large scale waves of complaints levelled against the company in the past few years and most of its more recent additions have been positive, it has done things that its subscribers and users disagree with in the past.
The big concern is whether Spotify will ultimately decide to turn on voice ads and remove granular opt-out choices for any user that has voice features turned on. The ads are meant to serve as a stop-gap for partners who want to deliver content or adverts to users who might not always be looking at their display — having put their smartphone in their pocket, for example.
So they may or may not turn out to be something users who don't want to upgrade to a paid version of the service need to be prepared to deal with, depending on how this trial goes.