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Can Ads Hear Me Now?

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Paul Cowman Senior Director of Digital Marketing

With over 15 years of experience in digital media, Paul Cowman heads up the demand generation team at Five9.   

If you are like me, it feels like every time you open your social media network you are shown an ad or news article for the topic, brand or product you just spoke about.  It is kind of odd when this occurs as it feels that the social media platforms are “listening” to your conversations. 

That said, what are we to make of this?  Are these digital giants eavesdropping into our personal conversations?  And from a business and marketing perspective, what is the way forward?  How can and should we use voice-based keywords to help trigger our ad delivery, while not violating our customers privacy? 

First, lets look at the numbers: 

According to PwC report, 2018 digital ad spending was projected to be roughly $108 billion.  Depending on the research report you reference (eMarketermarketingland, etc.), search and social platform will benefit the most, which is likely due to how well these platforms attract and retain users, leverage data, are mobile friendly, and integrate with video. 

Additionally, as reported earlier this year, two-thirds of advertisers are planning to create ads for voice specific activities.  According to a survey from MTM 79% of brands and media agencies believe reaching audiences through voice-activated devices is key over the net 12 months.  This shouldn’t be that surprising seeing that roughly 16% of American now have a smart speaker of some sort (source: NPR/Edison Research). 

And to round all this out, nearly all brands use some sort of behavioral online targeting.  71% use 1st party data; where 2nd and 3rd party data is looking to grow by 26% and 30% over the next two years (source: Digiday).

Net, net.  Budgets are moving to digital and advertisers are looking to voice to better target audiences. 

Secondly, let’s look at what is already happening:  

There is already a laundry list of mobile apps and technology providers that are recording ambient information from end-users mobile microphone as reported by the New York Times reported in 2017. 

And in mid 2018, Facebook applied for patents that “listen to ambient audio” to better detect what a person is watching on TV for the purpose of delivering personalized content (Sources: Fast Company, Guardian).

Although these tech giants and mobile tracking companies have repeatedly said that they do not plan to collect human speech, who knows what the future holds?  

Thirdly (and lastly), what are the options for voice that does not violate our privacy?

In the last study I read, I believe the stat was somewhere around 80% of consumers prefer phone over other channels when dealing with companies.  That said, these calls/conversations with a brand are recorded with caller opt-in consent.  In an interview with theCube Jonathan Rosenberg says (and I paraphrase):


…Contact center is a different beast.  It is area where there is already an assumption by users that when they interact with a contact center, the data is used to improve the experience… it is already opt-in… It is a tip of the spear, it was a place where it has permission.  The data has already been subject to analysis and a customer expectation of what was happening – but there has been limited ability to turn this data into action.  We are filling the ability to action on all that data with artificial intelligence.


As a paid media marketing professional, I find this very interesting. If I am able to match the keywords mentioned on a customer call with a unique, anonymized cookie, I will have the ability to re-target these users with personalized information that better aligns with what the customer needs and is interested in… and get this, the data is all opted-in.  The diagram below shows how this would work.   

So how do we get started?  First, marketers need to work with their customer support center.  Secondly, brand need to work with a call center software platform that is cloud based and leading in AI. Only with AI can companies mine and provision this data in a way that can make it actionable for marketers.  Thirdly, marketers need to help connect data sources.  Tell us how we can work with your DSP/DMP to get this data to you in the most secure and actionable manner.

I hope you found this post interesting.  Feel free to reach out if you want to discuss more.  And as always give a shout to our sales team.  They can hook you up with more details around Five9 and how our Intelligent Cloud Contact Center can solve your business challenges.


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Paul Cowman Senior Director of Digital Marketing

With over 15 years of experience in digital media, Paul Cowman heads up the demand generation team at Five9.   

Call 1-800-553-8159 to learn more about Five9