What The TV Remote Says About The Role Of Voice-Activation In Consumers’ Lives

New platforms fundamentally change the game, says ViralGains CEO Tod Loofbourrow.

When looking at the advertising and marketing possibilities from the emergence of voice-activation, it’s hard to see how it relates to the growth of online video, let alone to the history of TV.

But ViralGains CEO Tod Loofbourrow, speaking after a presentation on the science and art of online video, sees a line that may point the way to think of how to employ voice-activated, intelligent assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana into brands’ attempts to reach consumers.

During ViralGain’s StoryTech17 discussion, panelists Steve Rubel, Edelman PR’s Chief Content Strategist; Nick Miaritis, SVP, Regional Business Director, Saatchi & Saatchi New York; Jessica Richards, EVP, Managing Director, North America – Socialyse; and Josh Lowcock, EVP, Chief Digital Officer, IPG’s UM Worldwide, all noted the difference between TV and online video as pivoting on the ability to personalize advertising.

“TV is scarcity, online video is abundant,” Rubel noted. “We’re defining it too much according to formats, not enough on economics.”

“Online video is highly personal; TV comes with waste,” Lowcock added. “We overweight to online video, which has the value of intimacy and personalization.”

Among the tenets associated with voice and Connected Intelligence is the ability to get direct, personalized responses when the owner wants to buy something, make a reservation, check the weather, or get instructions on how to prepare a dinner.

We checked in on the connections between voice and video with Loofbourrow, who previously co-founded and served as President of iRobot Healthcare, a business unit of iRobot Corporation, before taking the helm of the online video platform two years ago.

GeoMarketing: How do you see the impact of Amazon Echo’s Alexa on marketing?

Tod Loofbourrow: There’s a wonderful video from a professor at the Stern School of Business  (L2’s Scott Galloway) that talks about what Amazon is really trying to do with Alexa:  It’s basically about the disintermediation of retail stores. When he tells Alexa that he wants to buy a laundry detergent, the price he gets is different from what he’ll find online. And the AmazonBasics products come at the top. It’s nothing less than the destruction of store brands.

With that in mind, how should marketers and agencies view the rise of voice-activation?

Voice is yet another fundamental platform, just as video is. In some sense, they both share the same concept from a marketer and agency perspective: this is a new platform, what can you do with it?

What do you think is driving voice as way for people and brands to interact?

Voice is about convenience. It’s for those moments when you don’t want to do the ‘hard work’ of getting up from the couch, when you don’t want to reach into your pocket and type on your phone.

When I taught a course at Harvard on applications of artificial intelligence, I’d set the context by noting when TVs first came out, if you wanted to change the channel, you had to get up and twist a dial. There was no remote control.

They thought that was practically crazy. I asked the class of about 100 people how much they would pay for a TV that had no remote. The answers started from $200, went to down to $100. Ultimately, the median answer was $5 to buy a TV without a remote.

What does the importance of the TV remote say about the potential for voice-activation?

Small changes in behavior – talking verses putting my fingers on a keyboard – have fundamental impacts on what brands and consumers go on to expect.

What pain are you solving with a TV remote? Walking five feet? Can you imagine being in a presentation to investors with that proposition? But as we know, that small difference of having a remote impacts the value and the expectations of watching TV.

Why do people buy Apple Watches? They haven’t been a runaway hit at this point, but the idea of not having to take your phone out of your pocket is going to have greater appeal.

New platforms fundamentally change the game. First, it was the PC, the internet, mobile, video, and now voice. My advice: start over with a blank sheet of paper. Lose all the baggage you have from the prior world, and just ask, “What if?” And that’s how you cannot only address voice or online video, but whatever comes after.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.