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Annoying ads coming to the Amazon Echo

Like an annoying pop up on the web, nobody likes to be surprised with ads. Do you remember when Burger King made that Whopper ad that activated the Google Assistant? Their sneaky idea crashed and burned!

Not only did pranksters slander the Whopper but some Google Home owners vowed to get rid of their device if ads became the norm. If Alexa were to have ads incorporated into her responses, surely several Echo owners would feel the same way.

Unfortunately, one firm is trying to do just that. VoiceLabs, a company that offers analytics on Alexa and Google Assistant skills, just launched “Sponsored Messages.” Echo owners will be able to ask for more information about products, add those products to their Amazon cart, and give feedback to brands.

According to VoiceLabs, the audio advertisements will be short and sweet (6-15 seconds long) and relevant to the listener. Their approach is also about transparency; instead of hiding paid messages, Sponsored Messages will be clearly marked as advertisements. With analytics in mind, developers will be able to adjust the frequency of the ads so that Echo owners don’t get annoyed.

Some major brands, like ESPN, have already teamed up with VoiceLabs. For them, the service is a way to gain insight into what consumers really want.

“We are fortunate to have advertising partners who ‘get it.’ For example, we collaborated with Progressive and Wendy’s to create Sponsored Messages that are both short, and also tell a brand story over the course of multiple user sessions,” said VoiceLabs’ Chief Product Officer Alex Linares.

Sponsored Messages will also help out the developers. Over 13,000 developers have created skills for Alexa but none of them get paid. Although Amazon Alexa does hire, they don’t buy skills from outside developers. You can use their resources to develop skills for free but there is a threshold where it begins to cost money and you won’t be compensated for your labor. Developers can earn credits and/or apply for money from The Alexa Fund.

“The hardest part about it was the more popular my Skills became, the more money and time I had to spend to support them, with no prospect of recouping on my investments. Today, this major issue is solved with VoiceLabs’ Sponsored Messages,” said Nick Schwab, who is one of the top 10 Alexa and Microsoft Cortana skill developers in the world.

So obviously this is great news for brands and developers. But what about the Amazon Alexa fans? Luckily, Amazon has the final say. According to the Alexa Skills Kit Policy Testing guidelines, a developer’s skill will be rejected if it:

  • Contains any advertising for third-party products or services, except in streaming music, streaming radio or flash briefing skills where ads are not the core functionality of the skill.
  • Contains any advertising using Alexa’s voice and/or Alexa app home cards.

What do you think? If ads are in then is Alexa out? What if Amazon created a premium Alexa version, similar to streaming services, where you pay a little bit extra to get rid of ads? Is that something you’d be willing to buy? Or do you think an ad-free Alexa is here to stay? Let me know in the comments section below.

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