Spotify, the Swedish music-streaming platform, has begun testing voice-enabled audio ads for one of its own podcasts as well as a branded playlist from Unilever, the consumer goods giant.

According to TechCrunch, Spotify users will be encouraged to respond verbally to the ads by saying “play now” into their microphone and this will then direct them to a branded Spotify playlist or a podcast.

In the interests of privacy, the microphone then switches off after the verbal command has been recognised, or if the user says anything else except “play now”.

Testing of the voice-enabled technology began last week and featured an ad for a Spotify Original podcast called Stay Free: The Story of the Clash, a series produced in partnership with the BBC about the rise and fall of the iconic British punk band.

A second ad, due to be launched later this month, will direct users who say “play now” to a curated playlist from Unilever, which is promoting its Axe men’s grooming brand.

For now, the ads will be available only to a subset of Spotify’s free mobile listeners in the US who have enabled the app’s voice controls during the trial period.

And for users who aren’t interested in the service, they can opt out by going to a “voice-enabled ads” section in the settings menu. They also can choose to disable the microphone access entirely.

TechCrunch noted that Daniel Ek, CEO and co-founder of Spotify, hinted at the development during a call with investors last week.

“We believe voice – really across all platforms – are critical areas of growth, particularly for music and audio content. And we’re investing in it, and we’re testing ways to explore and refine our offering in this arena,” he said at the time.

Commenting on Spotify’s trial, Tom Edwards, chief digital and innovation officer at agency Epsilon, told Advertising Age that it’s a smart move, although the company will need to make sure the voice ads are relevant and easy to access.

“Consumers want ease, convenience. If the voice ads are relevant and based on affinity of the listener, then this could be seen as a value-add, but some education or step-by-step instructions may be required for some users, especially if they have to adjust settings on their device,” he said.

“For most, it will not be an issue, but preparing for all user scenarios and a frictionless path for consumers will be critical to drive engagement.”

Sourced from TechCrunch, Spotify, Advertising Age; additional content by WARC staff