Ina Fried

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Coming to Your Phone: Ads That Talk Back to You (Video)

Voice technology is already finding a home in search, text entry and helping control mobile devices. Now Nuance thinks voice has a role to play in mobile advertising.

The company is announcing a venture on Monday, in combination with advertising agencies, ad networks and publishers, to see if ads that feature voice interaction might prove more engaging and effective than traditional banner ads.

“Mobile has a monetization challenge,” Nuance’s Mike McSherry said in an interview last week. “By introducing voice you can transcend the small screen size.”

In a demo of the ad technology, McSherry shows how a fictional deodorant company could have a magic eight-ball that can serve up witty responses to a range of different questions, ending with a product pitch.

Ads could also be informative, McSherry suggests, such as an ad for March Madness that allowed people to find out who is playing when, or get real-time results just by asking the ad for the information.

To get the ads accepted, though, Nuance will have to convince a large swath of companies — including those that do the advertising, the ones that make the ads, the people who make the tools used to build ads as well as the mobile ad networks and ultimately the apps that carry such ads.

McSherry said those hurdles can be overcome if ads with voice can outperform their mute counterparts.

“Most ads have limited engagement,” McSherry said. “If this increases the likelihood of participation by even fractional percentage points it is worthwhile.”

McSherry, who was CEO of Swype until its acquisition by Nuance, said the new venture appealed to him not because he has a passion for the ad business, but rather because it has a chance to shake up the way things are done.

“I get a kick out of building things,” he told AllThingsD.

Nuance has some early partners in each category, signing up creative advertising agencies include Digitas, OMD and Leo Burnett, mobile advertising networks Millennial and JumpTap, and Celtra, which has tools for making rich media ads.

It will take some time, though, to get the technology to make its way into shipping apps — and probably longer to see if McSherry is right about the effectiveness of such ads.

Nuance isn’t alone in trying to find a role for voice in brand advertising and marketing. Among the others in the space is a startup called Volio, run by Nuance’s founder Ron Croen.

Here’s a video of McSherry showing off a prototype of one of the new ads in action.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus