Last week, Universal Pictures announced that comedian Kevin Hart would be “the very first celebrity voice featured in U.S. versions of [Waze].” Universal is hoping to use the tie-in to promote an upcoming film in which Hart is starring, called “Ride Along.”
Ride Along also stars rapper-actor Ice Cube and appears aimed primarily at African-American US audiences, but with potentially broader appeal. Google acquired Waze for approximately $1.3 billion in June after a failed acquisition attempt by Facebook.
Google bought Waze in part to tap its community of engaged users and help improve the real-time and “ground truth” accuracy of Google Maps. Another motivation was pretty clearly to keep Waze out of the hands of rivals Facebook or Apple.
The social mapping app currently allows “Wazers” to select from among several voices for turn-by-turn directions and instructions. In addition to the newly added Kevin Hart voice, users can choose from “Samantha,” “Tom,” “Boy Band,” “Nathan,” “Elvis” or simply “default.”
Getting to these voices takes several clicks and is not entirely intuitive. You need to go to Settings –> Sound –> English and then select “Ride Along.”
It’s not immediately clear whether Waze is planning to approach other celebrities or whether Universal will try and promote other stars, shows and films using Waze. This may be a relatively unique situation where the theme of the promoted film and Waze are logically connected.
I imagine this is an experiment for both Waze and Universal, accordingly. However the broader idea of increasing the number of novelty voice choices for Waze users is probably appealing to the community.
Even if very few Wazers actually switch to Hart media coverage, the option has probably already raised the profile of the 2014 movie. That’s undoubtedly the primary objective for Universal.