Is Amazon going to mess with Alexa’s responses with ads?

Amazon Echo Dot (3rd generation)

Amazon

I am a product guy. In the past, I was actually a product marketing executive for a large tech company. I have shipped hundreds of products over the years. You always try to combine a need with a solution. Satisfy the needs of enough people and they will buy your product.

But generally, people have to think they have a need. Oh sure, that’s what marketing is about. Its job is to create demand where there may not be any. Sometimes it generates awareness. Sometimes, it generates leads by finding people who might be a good fit for a product. Sometimes, it generates enough hype that the product takes off as a simple side effect of an intense hype machine.

Also: Amazon is ready to announce a bunch of devices on September 1st. 28

How does this relate to Alexa? In 2014, Alexa looked a little weird. People couldn’t understand why you would want one. It didn’t fit into any of the usual product marketing formulas.

It was a Pringles can-shaped device that you could talk to. Why should you talk to him? Why would you have to spend a few hundred dollars doing what any calculator app would do? Why should you let it take up space just to be a glorified alarm clock? And the lights … just flick a switch. It couldn’t be easier.

What about playing music? Well, we had stereos, our iPods or phones, and many other ways to play songs. Sure, the intercom function could be useful. But who needs an internet-connected device that listens to your every word?

But with Alexa, Amazon managed to catch lightning in a bottle … er … can.

I know it’s subjective, but Alexa, more than Siri or Google’s assistant, seems to have the right balance between personality and availability, between capability and functionality. Whether you’re setting a timer while you cook, doing a hands-free math as you write, pausing any streaming service you’re watching on the Roku TV to ask a trivia or general-interest question, Alexa is usually relatively helpful.

In 2022, Alexa is ubiquitous. Many families have one in virtually every room.

There’s no doubt it’s a faceless AI cover-up for a giant corporation, but generally it has always been a friendly, helpful faceless AI cover-up for a giant corporation.

Times are changing

But this availability seems to be about to change. last week, Amazon announced is about to introduce vendor-provided answers for common Alexa questions. Here’s how Amazon describes it:

The feature is called Customers Ask Alexa, and it works like this: When customers ask Alexa questions, including questions about a product’s features or compatibility, Alexa responds with helpful answers provided by brands in those product categories.

For example, a customer who purchases cleaning products on Amazon.com might ask, “How can I remove pet hair from my carpet?” A brand can now provide answers to those questions, along with links to its Amazon storefront.

Ruh-roh.

Amazon says these aren’t paid ads. Vendors don’t pay for placement. Instead, there will be a new Customers Ask Alexa feature in Seller Central, where suppliers can see and answer questions using “self-service tools”. Responses will then be moderated by an Amazon team in charge of such things. All responses will be attributed to the brand that responds to them.

According to Rajiv Mehta, general manager of Alexa Shopping at Amazon, “Amazon recognizes brands as experts on their products. With this new feature, we have made it easier for brands to connect with customers to answer common questions and better inform their decisions. of purchase. ”

Yes, there is no way it can go wrong.

Playing the SERP (search engine response page) priority algorithm has already irrevocably changed editorial journalism. Most articles (mine included) go through an SEO review. Even if a title would be extremely attractive to humans (or just make more sense), it could be bombarded in favor of one that has more power than Google.

Yes, you’re still getting valuable content (if I say so myself), but SEO looms large in nearly every editorial decision on nearly every website. That’s just what everyone now needs to do to keep the revenue stream (needed to produce and run expensive publications) inbound. We all need good content and we all need to pay our bills.

It is not unreasonable to expect vendors to compete for positional prominence in the response system provided by the Alexa vendor. Also, it’s not unreasonable to expect that sales proposals, even if disguised as really helpful responses, will flood those responses.

This “service” is not expected until October, so we have no sample answers. But we can definitely expect questions like “Should I use scissors or electric clippers to cut my hair” could result in something like “Never pay for a haircut again with this new cutting edge design and look your best without the help from others. This answer was offered to you by ManGroomer, the ultimate do-it-yourself haircut kit. Would you like me to send you one? It can be there in two days. ”

Now, to be fair, the ManGroomer it’s great and saved me from the considerable embarrassment of the Zoom meeting during the height of the pandemic blockade. But this is not the point. Being proposed, even for products that work, ruins the useful relationship many of us have developed with Alexa. She is no longer a trusted and helpful friend, she is yet another door-to-door saleswoman trying to sell you something, except that she is already in the house.

We’ve all had that friend who got involved in a multilevel marketing scheme. Now, instead of talking about “how about them Yankees?”, Every other word is a step to some MLM product or another. It’s annoying, disheartening, and can ultimately cause damage to the relationship.

It’s true that Alexa has already offered a few items at random times (Amazon Music comes to mind). We always reply with an annoyed “Ah, no. Nuh-nuh-no”. Sometimes a warning appears with a yellow ring reminding you to do something about an upcoming Subscribe & Save order. But these promotions and notifications have not, so far, been specifically tied to third-party vendors. They don’t offer vendors a way to play around with the system to get the best SEO response results.

This is my concern for Alexa. Amazon’s engineers have managed to train Alexa for the right balance of availability and discretion. But if it constantly tries to push us up, it will age. First and foremost are the announcements on responses. So maybe it would be the ads in our timers.

“Alexa, set the timer to 10 minutes.”

“Timer set for ten minutes. You would like to buy Amazon’s Choice teacher classroom timers. A two-pack costs just $ 6.95. You would like to act before midnight tonight and place your order for the bliss of the color times. neon?”

Or maybe they’ll put announcements on our alarm clocks.

“Hello David. Maybe you would like to buy a box of muffins. Can I ship them to you right away?”

“How about more coffee pods? You know you want them.

“Ooh, I saw you watched The Grand Tour on Amazon Prime Video. I have a set of mats for you …”

Will nothing be sacred?

“Alexa, what is 228 divided by 19?”

“228 divided by 19 is 12. Speaking of 12, may I be interested in a 12 pack of shoe boxes? Amazon’s Choice now costs $ 37.95 and I can have them in your warm hands by Thursday. All you have to do is say Yes. You want them? Well, right? Say yes. Go on. Say it. “

Okay, so that’s probably an exaggeration. But how many previously wonderful websites now look like launching machines due to monetization and SEO? So what makes us think that Alexa won’t fall into the same dark hole? The revenue stream is probably too tempting to ignore.

Also: How to set motion-activated smart lights as an Alexa routine

A changing relationship

I’m sad for this. Alexa has been a fantastic (and frankly unexpected) blessing for many of us. At this point, she is practically a trusted member of the family. But if her essential nature is corrupted by an excessive pursuit of even more Bezos Bucks, she will be a real shame.

For example, I wouldn’t feel so comfortable having Alexa in my elderly parents’ home if I thought it would pressure them with brand marketing. The same goes for having her with young children or anyone with poor impulse control. It’s just too easy to say yes to a trusted family member. After all, how many times have you said yes to her helpful little questions over the past nine years?

For the record, I emailed Amazon PR to ask if there is a way Amazon customers will be able to forgo these potential upsells and how, in addition to content moderation, Amazon can prevent Alexa. to transform itself into an SEO-driven advertising machine. I haven’t received a reply yet. I will update this article if I have an answer.

So what do you think? Do you think Alexa will turn into an annoying upsell bot? Would you buy anything from Alexa if she proposed it as part of an answer to a question? Or do you think the world will go to hell and this is another slippery stone on the slippery downhill slope? Let us know in the comments below.


You can follow the daily updates of my project on social media. Make sure you follow me on Twitter at @David Gewirtzon Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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