New product from Nuance could result in smartphone ads that talk to you

Nuance Communications Inc., a Burlington-based company known for such speech-recognition software as Dragon NaturallySpeaking, said Monday that it is unveiling a new product designed to result in ads that consumers can talk to on their smartphones.

The product is called Nuance Voice Ads, and the company has formed a network of ad agencies and media buying services that will help advertisers to buy and place talking ads for mobile devices.

“Imagine talking to the Old Spice guy or the Geico gecko,” said Nuance chief marketing officer Peter Mahoney.

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Nuance’s current customers include airlines and hospitals that use speech recognition technology to help customers book flights or keep medical records. The Voice Ads product has the potential to expand Nuance’s customer base by appealing to advertisers and marketers.

Nuance’s press release cited data from eMarketer that noted that mobile ad spending around the world more than doubled in 2012 from $4 billion in 2011 to $8.41 billion.

Despite this jump in spending, advertisers are still grappling with how to present their sales pitches on a smartphone’s small screen. Simply shrinking an ad made for TV or a full-size personal computer hasn’t been effective as initially hoped, Mahoney said.

As he sees it, Nuance Voice Ads has the potential to make mobile ads far more effective, especially when GPS can use a consumer’s location in targeting an ad. Mahoney emphasized that consumers would have to give their permission for a smartphone ad to engage them in a conversation.

Voice Ads would act much like a personal assistant on many mobile devices. (Many people believe that Nuance powers Siri, the voice-control personal assistant on iPhones. Apple is a Nuance customers, but Nuance declined to comment on Siri.)

Mahoney gave an example of how an ad using Nuance technology might work.

A consumer might check a smartphone app while waiting for the bus. The app might have an ad for a local coffee shop. If the consumer opted in, the ad might ask, “Are you a black coffee guy or a latte guy?” If the answer was “latte,” the ad might then offer a discount coupon that could be redeemed at a nearby store.

One advantage of a talking ad: Consumers are more likely to remember them than a typical smartphone ad.

Meanwhile, smart TV sets are coming onto the market. Some day, consumers will be able to have conversations with TV ads, Mahoney said.

In launching Voice Ads, Nuance said has partnered with several ad agencies known for their focus on mobile advertising ecosystem. They include Digitas, OMD, and Leo Burnett. The network also encompasses companies place mobile ads. These firms include Millennial Media, Jumptap, and Opera Mediaworks, Nuance said.