Head gestures: A soon-to-be interactive audio ad format?

If reaching for the screen is too much for advertisers to ask of streaming audio listeners, voice-response ad technology is available. If saying “yes” or “no” is a bridge too far, how about ads which respond to a nod or headshake?

That’s the premise of Head Nod Detection, a new piece of ad tech from podcast analytics company Backtracks. The idea is clear on the face of it (or, in the shake of it) — nodding, shaking, or tilting the head can determine what happens next in the audio currently playing.

It is being developed to work with Apple AirPods Pro earbuds. The Backtracks technology is part of the Backtracks Native SDK (Software Development Kit), which enables clients to turn the native head movement recognition capability into interactive programming for the individual listener. It works across several Apple and Android operating systems, as embedded in phones, tablets, laptops, watches, and smart TVs.

In practice, it means that basic “yes” and “no” responses can be conveyed with head gestures. For example, if an audio ad asks, “Would you like to know more,” the answer can be a nod (yep) or shake (nope).

Interactive audio ads are already in the market, though not prevalent. Pandora has voice-response ads in play, using technology from specialist audio tech company Instreamatic. Backtracks is clearly pushing into the same frontier of intuitive ad-response technology, which it says “holds great promise for marketers looking for new ways to connect with their leads and customers.”

The company also sees other applications. One is what Backtracks calls “spatial 3D audio remixing.” In this application, head motions change how sounds are placed in the 360-degree audio field. For example, tilting or turning the head would change the stereo imaging of music — perhaps raising volume in one ear.

Interactive storytelling is another possibility envisioned by Backtracks. The company imagines a new kind of “choose your own adventure” content where listeners choose a story branch with a head movement.

“Backtracks believes that Airpods offer an exciting new arena where listeners, creators, publishers, and advertisers can converge, all profiting from the creative possibilities for immersion and interaction,” the company states. More information, including elaborate rationales and some metrics, is on this explainer page.


Brad Hill