Amazon Tips Its Hand on Alexa Ads

Although Amazon maintains there are no plans to put ads on its Alexa voice assistant — the brains behind the Echo line of smart speakers — they’ve started asking advertisers what kind of ads they might pay for.

Although Amazon maintains there are no plans to put ads on its Alexa voice assistant — the brains behind the Echo line of smart speakers — they’ve started asking advertisers what kind of ads they might pay for.

I’ve been talking a lot about the development of voice search, AI assistants and smart speakers lately, and what they could mean for digital advertising in the future. (Maybe you’ve heard some of it …) But so far, the actual advertising side of that has been a guessing game. Here are a few advertising options, but clearly Amazon is letting the user base build before revealing the actual shape of its offering to brands.

But just yesterday, CNBC reported that Amazon has started asking serious questions about the viability of Alexa advertising. According to anonymous sources, they’ve gone as far as asking major CPG brands what kinds of sponsorships they’d be wiling to pay for:

With Alexa, where advertising is currently limited, Amazon is in talks to offer companies a variety of promotional opportunities, including some that are already being tested.

One experiment in the works is letting companies target users based on past shopping behavior. For example, Alexa may suggest to a shopper who previously bought Clorox’s Pine-Sol to consider buying its disinfecting wipes. Amazon is also looking to tap advertising in Alexa’s skills. Someone asking the Echo for help cleaning up a spill might be nudged to use a specific brand.

There are already some sponsorships on Alexa that aren’t tied to a user’s history. If a shopper asks Alexa to buy toothpaste, one response is, “Okay, I can look for a brand, like Colgate. What would you like?”

Although Amazon responded to that article by saying there are no current plans to advertise on Alexa, the conversations are certainly plausible, and they reveal some interesting ideas.

For starters, the promotional opportunities are all pretty singular. Unlike Google search ads, where you might see a handful of promoted posts, these ads sound like they’ll be exclusive, and presented before non-sponsored options are event mentioned. That’s a pretty powerful sponsorship.

Second, linking the direct-order potential of Alexa to what amounts to audio push-notifications for brand you buys creates a loyalty model almost as powerful as continuity programs.

Of course, these ad types are all just in the discussion phase, but Amazon is clearly aiming for an experience that’s more like targeted, data-driven online advertising than broadcast radio.

Your Best Marketing Investment: Recent Grads

My longtime colleague Jon Roska used to say, “If the army can trust a 23-year-old to drive a $5 million tank, surely we can trust them to write a marketing plan.”

My longtime colleague Jon Roska used to say, “If the army can trust a 23-year-old to drive a $5 million tank, surely we can trust them to write a marketing plan.”

Throughout my career as a marketer, mentor and teacher, I have learned that recent college grads are capable of creating remarkable work if given the chance. “Millennials on Marketing” in the Jan/Feb issue of Target Marketing features four young people who created a plan for increasing referrals for DirecTV that won the Gold ECHO in the Collegiate ECHO Competition. You can hear them tell the story of their winning campaign in this video. One of the comments from the DirecTV team: Cohesive strategy that fit real-world application from assessment, strategic planning, defining objectives, execution, reading results and optimizations.

Of course, the army doesn’t hand the keys to an M1 Abrams tank to just any 23-year-old, particularly without adequate training. Nor should we let just any 23-year-old write a marketing plan without adequate training. Jon Roska was relentless in his quest to prepare recent graduates for success, and those who worked at our agency are making meaningful contributions at the best agencies in New York and Philadelphia, as well as client-side at companies like Ticketmaster and Google.

There’s a lot of talent out there that’s ripe for the picking, and with the proper nurturing, you can reap big benefits from it. Here are five things I learned about nurturing young marketing talent by working alongside Jon Roska:

  • Choose Carefully. Pick those who are both busy and successful in school. Good grades are important, but not enough. You want people who achieve results while juggling several balls at once – involvement in student organizations, sports, internships and employment ensure that you’re getting someone who is dedicated. Screen for desire – it’s the most important component of success.
  • Empower Them. Make them fully responsible for something right away. Start with something small, like creating a weekly report. Raise the stakes quickly as they deliver. Make them accountable.
  • Support Them. Give them access to the resources they need to figure it out for themselves – books, webinars, face time with senior people, etc. Quiz them on their understanding and redirect them, as-needed. Share best-example models of the assignments you give to show them what good looks like. Take them to important meetings to observe and have them summarize their notes to gauge their understanding of the key issues. Most importantly, invest your time in them. You may think you’re too busy, but ultimately, they will lighten your load.
  • Let Them Fail. I don’t mean you should allow them to blow up a major project or an important client. Rather, foster an environment where it’s OK to be wrong. You’ve empowered them, and you can’t expect them to be right all the time. But we learn more from our failures than we learn from our successes. Frequently ask, “What did you learn from this?”
  • Maintain High Expectations. If you don’t expect much, that’s what you’re going to get. The converse is true, as well.

Who Should Run for President? Effective Marketers Who Get Results!

As a marketer, how do you know that your work has made a difference in the world? It’s not whether you made an audience laugh, cry or remember the words to your jingle. It’s not because your brand name can evoke a Pavlovian response to make a purchase. For me, the most impressive result is when a smart strategy and innovative creative solution have a major impact on solving a business problem. I’m proud to report that this year’s ECHO entries were no exception.

As a marketer, how do you know that your work has made a difference in the world? It’s not whether you made an audience laugh, cry or remember the words to your jingle. It’s not because your brand name can evoke a Pavlovian response to make a purchase. While these are certainly all impressive outcomes, for me the most impressive result is when a smart strategy and innovative creative solution have a major impact on solving a business problem. And I’m proud to report that this year’s ECHO entries were no exception.

The ECHO Awards, represented by a new and beautifully designed glistening crystal statue, were handed out at a gala celebration on Monday night, complete with live band and TV-personality/stand-up comedian. But the highlight of the evening were those entries that truly impacted change – whether by driving a politician to introduce groundbreaking legislation or by disrupting an entrenched competitor. From campaigns for a little known travel destination in India to a clever recruiting campaign that sought to identify future code breakers for The U.S. Navy, the 2015 ECHO Awards were a testament to the brilliance of marketers who have honed their craft.

Even though I was honored to be this years’ ECHO Judging Chair, I was too busy administratively during the judging process to spend any time actually reading or judging entries this year. But when the dust finally settled and I was able to review all the finalist entries and partake in the discussion around who should be the Diamond Winner, I was astounded at how many times I marveled “I wish I’d thought of that!”

The judges, recruited from across the globe, were a tough bunch. While they included agency strategists, art directors, copywriters, account planners, project managers and client-side marketing pros, not one was unimpressed with the breadth and depth of the campaigns they reviewed. I saw many partake in lively discussions around the merits of an entry – and wished I could be part of that debate process.

In the end, those that were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze statues on Monday night, should know that they are among an elite few. From nearly 1,000 entries, their work stood above the rest. Their work helped a client meet a financial goal… Or improved the lives of those less fortunate… Or helped drive revenue… Or helped drive sales. Most importantly, every campaign was thoughtful, innovative, and delivered on their promise to meet the stated measurable objectives. That’s no mean feat.

And that’s certainly more than I can say for most politicians.