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Are celebrity voices the next big mobile marketing trend?

Waze has just integrated its first United States celebrity voice navigation in partnership with Universal Pictures to promote the upcoming film ?Ride Along." The new feature may point to a new opportunity for marketers both in the navigation space as well as search.

American Waze users can now choose to have comedian and actor Kevin Hart direct them to their end destination. The feature has had a lot of success in other parts of the world, and the U.S. release signals the beginning of a possible trend for other marketers.

?We see this partnership as a great way to build awareness for the film by bringing Kevin's personality into a user's Waze experience and generating interest in Ride Along due to the relevant positioning within the app,? said Doug Neil, executive vice president of digital marketing at Universal Pictures, Universal City, CA.

?Waze's growth rate, functionality and large user base made it the right app to partner with for the film.?  

Ride along
Kevin Hart stars alongside Ice Cube in the upcoming film Ride Along, which hits theaters on Jan. 17.

To promote the film, Universal Pictures decided to partner with Waze for the first U.S. celebrity voice command in the app.

Consumers can download Waze for free in Apple?s App Store and Google Play. Once they have the updated app, they can go to settings, click on sound and select ?English ? Ride Along? as their voice language.

Kevin Hart will then deliver the directions to their next destination.

Pins in the map also let consumers access Kevin?s setting with one click. Additionally, they direct users to purchase advance tickets to see Ride Along in theaters.

While this is the U.S. debut of the feature, Waze has already implemented celebrity voice command in other countries.

For example, Arabic-speaking Waze users could have Lina Mahul, winner of NBC's "The Voice," direct them for a limited time.

?Celebrity voices have been a Wazer favorite in other parts of the world and we wanted to wait until we found a partner in the U.S. who was brand-right,? said Julie Mossler, spokesperson for Waze, Palo Alto, CA.

?As an advertising platform, we are able to translate user intent and location to ensure partners are reaching the consumers they want to reach,? she said. ?We provide a completely new vehicle for a motion picture's marketing mix but most importantly, we continue to develop our advertising to be valuable to drivers and something we think they'll enjoy.

?Many drivers enjoy books on tape or music - why not laugh a little? Celebrity voice navigation is an entertaining feature that helps kill time in the car and encourages eyes on the road.?

According to Ms. Mossler, Waze plans to continue integrating new celebrity voices in the U.S. on a special, infrequent basis.

Celebrity voices
Universal Pictures is one of the first marketers to leverage celebrity voice, but there may be opportunity for similar campaigns beyond the navigation space.

?I could see it being leveraged for additional online promotional opportunities or social visibility. As the reach and visibility of ?The Voice of Waze,? there could be tie-ins to other aligned businesses or social/PR campaigns,? said Grant Simmons, director of SEO and social product at The Search Agency, Los Angeles.

?I could see Priceline having William Shatner voice search results, or Geico leveraging an English meme to voice search result," Mr. Simmons said. "The challenge is that many search engines aren't just giving one result, so the effect of celebrity voice integration is limited to simple answers, potentially with some personality of the celebrity themselves."

?For Waze, that would mean a little comic relief in your traffic-jam laden commute, or questions about your communicated destination," he said. "From that standpoint, the fact of having more personality to the blandness or search might be a differentiator, but it really depends on whether the celebrity's personality aligns with the brand personality and enhances/differentiates the search experience.?

While not necessarily in the navigation or search space, American Family Insurance found a creative way to integrate a celebrity voice into the mobile space. The company?s Ask Russell app lets consumers chat with National Football League player Russell Wilson with a voice-activated feature (see story).

"Celebrities in advertising are nothing new," said Ann Green, managing partner of client solutions and innovation at Millward Brown. "What is new, though, is how advertisers are using new technologies and channels. So instead of a simple voiceover, the celebrity might be more engaged with the brand?s customers through social or mobile channels. There are lots of opportunities to create fun and engagement for users that could build loyalty over the long term.

"A brand might use a celebrity voice ? or a celebrity spokesperson ? to garner attention or buzz," she said. "But, like any tactic, it should always serve the larger brand strategy. Using a celebrity for the sake of using a celebrity might work short term, but if it isn?t aligned with the strategy, it will not build the brand over time.

"Marketers always need to consider, does the celebrity have a reputation that aligns with my brand? Or, does the voice work with the messages we are trying to communicate?"

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York