The Next Great Media Channel Is the Self-Driving Car. Will Brands Be Ready?

The average driver spends 48 minutes behind the wheel

Self-driving cars will open up a wealth of opportunities for contextual and relevant marketing.
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GM has increased production of self-driving Chevy Bolts. Volvo is partnering with self-driving car chipmaker Nvidia. Volkswagen is working to power its cars with A.I.

The conversation has fully shifted from “if” driverless cars will become the new normal to “when.” While the general public is eager for improved productivity, better safety and hopes for reduced traffic, marketers should be looking at the autonomous vehicle from a different angle: as the next great media channel.

As technology continues its advance, the car will become a hot spot for interaction, entertainment and information. It will also be a treasure trove of data.

While the exact time frame is hard to predict, the advent of 5G–with 100 times the data transfer speeds of 4G, plus better connectivity between devices and internet-enabled objects—will unlock huge opportunity for both the auto industry and marketers who could exploit the new media experiences.

This opportunity will open up in two ways: first, as a precision marketing tool, using all the data the car will soon produce; secondly, as mass-reaching vehicle (pardon the pun), as self-driving cars become mini entertainment centers.

In the near future, autonomous cars will process staggering amounts of data: current and past destinations, speed of travel, demographics and biometrics of the riders, present and future weather, traffic conditions, and nearby landmarks and commercial locations—all of which marketers could access to achieve an unprecedented level of precision in consumer messaging.

Let’s consider what might soon be possible from a marketing perspective in this new channel for say, a coffee chain.

A passenger in a smart car passes a chain coffee shop on the way to work every morning. They have the coffee brand’s app. When they’re close, we programmatically target the rider, asking if they’d like to stop to pick up a medium soy latte—their preferred order at this time of day. If the rider says yes, their car is directed to the store, where their coffee is ready to be picked up at the counter, since payment has already been processed through the app.

In this example, you can see the confluence of benefits: Time of day meets exact location meets buyer-behavior meets real-time messaging.

On the other side of our consumer’s day, recognizing the route and time stamp from work to home, a supermarket could serve up cooking content and then share an offer on ingredients. Or if passenger biometric data recognizes that the passenger is generally too hungry to wait, he or she could be served with ads and offers for nearby restaurants. Still on the way home but moving out of the food category, a network, premium channel or streaming service marketer could serve tune-in messages for that evening based on the driver’s historical preferences.

The opportunity doesn’t only lie within in-car targeting. Consider also that a car that drives itself gives users, who used to be drivers, time back in their day (an average of 48 minutes per day according to AAA). More time means more chance to consume ad-funded or branded content, turning the car into another “opportunity to see,” either on mobile or in-car screens.

That means those tune-in messages on the drive home can actually be trailers and behind-the-scenes extras. On the weekends, travel brands could leverage past purchase data to predict preferred vacation times and locations to send targeted destination content ideally timed to when the consumer is in consideration mode, and more receptive to leisure-oriented messages.

Car companies will need to decide what role they wish to play as the producer of this new media “device.” Will they follow the model the video game consoles have already hewn, licensing their tech to various content providers while fighting for valuable exclusive titles? How much control can and should they exert over the “pipes” of their cars?

Regardless of where those chips fall, they will be in the position to collect an amazing amount of data from the cars and those who ride in them. In a category in which the traditional ownership and profitability dynamics are shifting, licensing APIs and selling data will become an increasingly bigger aspect of how car brands make money.