“Alexa, Are You Listening?”

In the premiere episode of the latest season of South Park, viewers watched as South Park characters deliberately triggered responses from Alexa, Google and Siri smart devices.  Which, of course, are voice-activated devices that many viewers of the show own. 

This resulted in rather profane comments from those smart home devices (not to be repeated in case our mothers read this!), setting alarms for ungodly hours, as well as adding outlandish items to its owner’s shopping basket, not just in the show but also in the very living rooms of its viewers!

OK, so for most of us this resulted in an amusing practical joke of the kind you’d expect from the show and some great publicity for their new season. And for those impacted?  Well, come on guys, what did you expect if you’re a fan of South Park?

But, earlier last year, a similar thought also occurred to Burger King, resulting in a far more insidious intrusion.

In the below TV ad, Burger King decided to use the ‘OK Google’ command to trigger Google Home devices to recite the ingredients of the Whopper.

At first glance, it seems quite an ingenious move on Burger King’s part.  Sure, it might make anyone watching this with a smart device listen up as their device prattles on about the Whopper, but it also raises the question of whether Burger King invaded customer privacy.

Instead of the customer actively choosing when and how (mobile, tablet, desktop) to learn more about the Whopper (what Google coins a Micro-Moment), Burger King takes control of those decisions – and the customer becomes passive in this process.

It’s as if a digital display ad automatically took you to a landing page without you clicking or pressing anything.  If the advertiser can do that, then all that’s left to do is to add the desired (by them) order to your shopping basket.  Magic! Goal completion assured.

It’s no surprise then that Google went on to restrict the advert’s ability to set off devices, and interestingly has since been removed from Burger King’s YouTube channel. Quite rightly, Google Home users questioned whether an invasion of literally self-serving ads could soon be expected in their own homes and more disturbingly, without the all-important on/off switch.

But what are the other more socially acceptable implications of the marketing power of smart home devices that have been highlighted by Burger King and even South Park’s actions? Keep in mind that these devices are suddenly making it socially acceptable to use voice technology that’s been in our Smart Phones for some time now. So, we need to start thinking hard about this trend. 

Especially when you see comScore (global leader in cross-platform measurement of audiences, advertising and consumer behaviour) predicting that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice searches.

If Google, Amazon Apple and Microsoft are successful then their devices are here to stay and with them, the real dawn of ubiquitous voice activated search.

So, for us marketers, it poses the question of how do we optimise our sites for voice search, and even our brand, service or product for voice activation?

Well we expect to see the big boys becoming more and more creative (and adventurous) with their SEO and advertising techniques that specifically target smart home devices and voice search and search results.

And as one of the big SEO trends for 2018 we’ll give you some first-hand tips and techniques on how to be a part of this trend too.  So be sure to keep an eye out on our Insights page for more on this topic, and if you want to talk to us about optimising your website and SEO for voice search, get in touch here.
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