Google sparked a small firestorm last week as reports surfaced that its intelligent assistant device Google Home had delivered what appeared to be an unsolicited advertisement to unsuspecting owners.
The reports first emerged on Reddit and Twitter, where users who own Google Home devices posted that Google slipped in an ad for Disney’s new Beauty and the Beast movie.
As one user explained on Reddit:
This morning while I was getting ready for work, I did my usual “Okay Google, good morning”. After information about the time and weather, my google home said something along the lines of “By the way, Beauty and The Beast opens in theaters today. In this version, Belle is the inventor. Sounds more like it to me.”
A mixed response from Home owners
Not surprisingly, many of the Google Home owners who heard the ad were not pleased. “Why in hell would I ever pay someone else to advertise to me, in the privacy of my own home no less?” one Twitter user asked.
“Wow, Google. You were doing so much better than Siri. Then you just threw that all away. Siri may suck right now at many things, but at least I know that Apple will never inject her with ads,” a Redditor wrote.
Other comments suggested that some consumers would no longer consider purchasing Google Home based on the presence of advertising.
But according to Google, the ad wasn’t an ad. First, a spokesperson told Business Insider, “This isn’t an ad; the beauty in the Assistant is that it invites our partners to be our guest and share their tales.”
Later, as video of the ad playing made the rounds, Google followed up with another statement.
“This wasn’t intended to be an ad. What’s circulating online was a part of our My Day feature, where after providing helpful information about your day, we sometimes call out timely content. We’re continuing to experiment with new ways to surface unique content for users and we could have done better in this case.”
Unfortunately for Google, if it walks and talks like an ad, it’s probably going to be considered… an ad. At least by consumers and the media.
The future of monetizing voice search?
Of course, Google is one of the most powerful ad companies in the world, so the fact that it experimented with an audio ad on Google Home isn’t exactly surprising.
As more and more consumers interact with devices that have intelligent assistants, such as Google Home and Amazon Echo, it’s natural that companies in the digital advertising ecosystem are going to be interested in experimenting with audio ads, which could be a killer app for monetizing these devices.
For Google, the interest is potentially necessary. After all, if more and more consumers come to search for information through voice-based intelligent assistants instead of screen-based devices, it could have a negative impact on Google’s other ad products, especially AdWords.
— brysonmeunier (@brysonmeunier) March 16, 2017
There has been some speculation in the search industry about whether we might see a transition to a “SERP-less search” as voice search becomes more mainstream.
In this eventuality, there has always been the question of what might happen to paid search, and how search engines would monetize the new SERP-less landscape. Well, we may have just found the answer to that question.
In spite of Google’s denials that the Beauty and the Beast product placement was an ad, we could be looking at – or listening to – the future of paid voice search.
A version of this article, ‘Has advertising arrived on Google Home?’ originally appeared on our sister site ClickZ.