Google Home might not be the most popular voice assistant to offer convenient information in exchange for reams of personal data, but it appears to be the first to serve ads directly into users’ living rooms.
Bryson Meunier, a Chicago-based SEO marketing professional, filmed a bizarre interaction with one the search giant’s friendly robot obelisks earlier today. After Meunier asked what his day “was like,” Google’s knowledge cylinder responded with the current time, local weather, and information about his commute—before launching into a 15-second ad for Beauty and the Beast complete with musical accompaniment and sound effects.
When asked for comment, Google gave the following statement to The Verge and Search Engine Land: “This isn’t an ad; the beauty in the Assistant is that it invites our partners to be our guest and share their tales.” We haven’t heard back from Google yet, but they’ll likely send the same thing, so let’s dissect.
To be clear, this is absolutely an ad. It encourages people to exchange money for a product, is wedged in the middle of unrelated material, and uses a different soundtrack to call attention to the fact that it’s not related to the main message, a technique used by many podcasts. And no matter how much ass-covering the word “partners” is supposed to be doing here, Disney is not listed as a partner company on Google’s own website.
Delving past the obvious obfuscation, even the statement reads just like ad copy. Beauty? Be our guest? Google must be trolling. To which I say both “hah” and “fuck off.”
Meunier’s experience isn’t an isolated incident, as it was easily replicated by Marketingland’s Danny Sullivan. If this heralds the dawn of an ad-supported future for digital assistants, I guess the only surprise is that we didn’t see it coming sooner.
Update 3/16/17 6:13 EDT: Business Insider writer Steve Kovach obtained a statement from a Google spokesperson who claims the 15-second audio clip encouraging Home users to see Beauty and the Beast “wasn’t intended to be an ad.” Huh. The spokesperson went on to say the following [emphasis ours]:
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.
I, for one, can’t wait to have Google surface “timely content” for other things I can pay money for.