The overwhelming implications for driverless cars and marketing

driverless cars and marketing

Most analysts believe that by 2020 there could be millions of self-driving cars on the highways. The implications are vast … for safety, for energy savings, for the creation of entirely new industries and business models.

It’s time to start thinking through the impact of driverless cars and marketing because suddenly, people who used to be spending their time behind the wheel of a car will have more time to consume content. A LOT more content. Here’s what McKinsey predicts:

Automated Vehicles could free as much as 50 minutes a day for users, who will be able to spend traveling time working, relaxing, or accessing entertainment. The time saved by commuters every day might add up globally to a mind-blowing one billion hours—equivalent to twice the time it took to build the Great Pyramid of Giza. It could also create a large pool of value, potentially generating global digital-media revenues of €5 billion per year for every additional minute people spend on the mobile Internet while in a car.

One billion hours of time. A day.

In addition to this time savings, driverless cars will open up new transportation freedom for the blind, elderly, and people with disabilities — a massive new captive audience.

Do you think there are good times ahead for those who are in marketing and the content creation business?

Yes, indeed.

So what will the world be like for marketers when every driver becomes part of this vast new captive audience? Let’s dream.

The information cockpit

With new roles for the driver and new implications for safety, cars of the future won’t look like cars today. In my mind, some day the driver’s seat will look like the module on a first class international flight.

The implications for driverless cars and marketing

By Mark Schaefer

Imagine yourself in a nice lounge chair with every kind of entertainment option available to you. We’ll  be able to watch movies, play games with our friends around the world, and work with a seamless and powerful Internet connection.

Who owns the customer?

Is it possible that automotive companies will make more money as moving entertainment networks than by making cars?

After all, they are going to own that one billion hour of free time every day.

There is a powerful emotional bond between consumers and their content. For me I have feelings of deep connection when I hear the words Star Wars, Bruce Springsteen, Radiohead, and Cormac McCarthy (my favorite living author). If you own our content, you own our love.

One of the reasons that I don’t favor the Amazon Echo right now is because my owned music collection is on the Apple ecosystem. Alexa (the Amazon virtual assistant) can’t play the music stored on Apple iTunes, so Apple owns my love.

What happens when the battlefield for consumer attention shifts from the home to the car? Pardon the pun, but the car companies will be in the driver’s seat. We may end up choosing a car brand based on whether it is Apple-oriented, Amazon-oriented … and oh yes, I think Google has something to say about self-driving cars too (they’ve already struck a partnership with Ford).

It may not matter how powerful the engine is, or what color the car is … we’ll probably choose our car of the future based on the best entertainment features.  The cockpit of a self-driving car will be a huge commercial battlefield and a massive new personalized content delivery system.

Eventually our cars will be as personalized as our smartphone and once we get the apps and settings just the way we want them, the switching costs will be significant. Perhaps our first automated car purchase will be our most important one since it may set the boundaries of future purchases.

So far we have not seen many alliances between content providers and car companies but this will have to happen soon.

What kind of content will we consume?

By the time self-driving cars are available, we’ll also have a new kind of content available through virtual reality.

I believe this technology will have a more profound impact on our lives than the Internet itself. A virtual world will surround us like the air that we breathe. And it’s addictive. I think many people will spend most of their day with a headset on. That may sound a little creepy but most of the activities now performed on a smartphone, laptop, and maybe even a television set will transfer to this headset. At SXSW this year I took a VR Alaska cruise. It was so beautiful and relaxing … I didn’t want it to end.

VR will usher in a new way to have meetings, connect on Facebook, discover, relax, and entertain ourselves. So obviously cars will have these devices built in for every passenger. A car will be the perfect setting to sit back and become immersed in another world.

But like the entertainment choices on an international flight, we’ll also be able to consume traditional forms of content like games, books, podcasts, and movies.

If I take a couple of long flights a month, I’ll be searching for some new movies to see. With a billion free hours a day, the world will be craving more movies, more serialized content … more of everything. We could be entering a true golden era for content creation.

As I mentioned in a recent post, podcasts are a red-hot form of content right now. This is the one form that could actually decline in this scenario. Today, many people listen to podcasts in cars because they can’t consume other forms of content like videos or blogs. But if you don’t have to watch the road any more, podcasts may become somewhat less important.

With more time on our hands, long-form written content may have a renaissance if people use the time to study or learn something new during peak productive commuting times.

Because most time in the car is based on a commute, I think it would be useful if a new kind of content category emerges based on your expected travel time. For example, if you have a 40-minute commute, you would probably love to consume some programming that is exactly 40 minutes. Some smart marketers will develop content channels or a search function based on the program LENGTH to serve news and serialized stories that fit your commuting time. In fact, the car could calculate the probable trip length and suggest content that fits your schedule every day.

Perhaps a car will even select a longer route so you can finish that episode of Game of Thrones right before you arrive.

The advertising prospects of driverless cars

What will these mobile entertainment centers mean for advertisers?

  • In some ways, a car-based content distribution system may be a “do-over” for the ad industry. Today people hate ads so much they want to block them. Hopefully the industry has learned its lesson and won’t turn cars into places that interrupt and annoy us.
  • We would probably enjoy free content as a trade for a sponsorship statement. For example, the Spotify or iTunes of the future will have access to all of the personal information being collected from our travels and align a sponsor precisely with our interests and our destination. “Today’s free music is brought to you by Taco Bell. You’ll be passing 27 of our stores today. Why not try a delicious Chalupa del Grande?”
  • When you buy a car from a dealership, you may be able to choose to pay for an entertainment package or get one for free that comes with a sponsor. 
  • Advertising opportunities on traditional radio stations will be crushed with the end of “drive time.” When we are riding around in the ultimate personal entertainment device, it’s unlikely we’ll choose to listen to ad-filled local programming. Is commercial radio nearing its end?
  • An ad-free network like Sirius XM will thrive but it probably needs to expand into everything audio including podcasts and books.
  • Some predict that we won’t own cars any more — they will simply come and pick us up. I could definitely see an opportunity for “sponsored rides” in this scenario. Perhaps when your free ride arrives, the entire car will be an ad:

driverless cars and marketing

Driverless cars and marketing: eCommerce

A billion free hours a day will also give people more time to shop. PricewaterhouseCoopers projects that spending in the autonomous-car industry will balloon to $43.2 billion globally by 2021. What does a “mobile shopping experience” look like? 

  • Basically we will be driving around in a mechanical “cookie” that is collecting information about us to feed to advertisers. Special shopping deals could also be targeted to who is sitting in the car, so targeted ads will follow us around wherever we are.
  • When I’m on a trip, it’s not unusual for me to forget something. In the future, we can tell the car about our problem and have the missing item waiting for us at the destination. Perhaps that razor or hairbrush will be delivered, or maybe just 3D printed at the hotel or a service station along the way.
  • It would be useful to be able to opt-in to streaming ads that are synchronized to our trip. This would help us discover special deals, amazing products, and entertainment opportunities along our route. For example, I love true Texas-style barbecue brisket and that is hard to come by outside of the Lone Star State. I would enjoy receiving a “BBQ alert” if there is a famous joint nearby as I zoom down the Interstate, especially if a coupon comes with it.

Car companies are already beginning to market to consumers before the automated vehicles arrive.

General Motors and IBM plan to combine IBM’s artificial intelligence software Watson with the automaker’s OnStar system in order to market services to drivers in more than 2 million vehicles.

IBM’s Watson, which beat two previous winners of the quiz show “Jeopardy!” in 2011, will sift through data in order to recognize a driver’s habits, allowing third-party marketers to deliver targeted offers, whether nearby coffee shops, reminders about shopping-list items, or paying for fuel from their dashboards.

I’ve had fun dreaming up the possibilities of driverless cars and marketing possibilities, but I’m sure you have some reactions and ideas, too. Why not share them in the comment section?

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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  • Amelia

    I love that self-driving cars will improve safety and offer transportation freedom to those who previously were unable to drive themselves; that is wonderful! Aside from that, this article made me feel sad. Driving is one of the last few vestiges of single-tasking (well, in theory). It’s one of the few places where we aren’t completely bombarded by external stimuli, and there is space for us to see the real world — not a screen. Personally, my commute to and from work is coveted quiet time.

    As a marketer, I often feel like our industry is a pack of wolves and people’s free time is the prey. I recognize that marketing is merely a symptom of a larger corporate culture flaw that makes a bottom line more valuable than humanity. Respectfully I ask, at what point do we take a step back, look at the big picture, and ask, “What kind of world are we helping create?” Do we really want to aid in the creation of a world where people are parked in front of a screen consuming content 24/7?

  • Lori Gosselin

    This is a fascinating perspective on a probable future! What I’m stuck on is the billion hours of time freed up! (And that 1940s sketch of the “future” which is very close to here!
    I do love that as I age (waaaay down the road!) i will never face the grief of having my licence revoked! So much to think about here – such exciting times we live in and wait! More time to consume content!?!? That’s a reversal of the give-it-to-me-in-small-bites world we live in now. I hope. 🙂

  • Claytonjay101

    I wonder what the numbers are for people making a commute and traveling for work vs. personal driving? If it frees up so many people on the commute, productivity might go up instead of facebook usage and it could be a boom to the economy with that much time back to work. Whatever form advertising takes in this medium, the free market will probably figure out some work arounds like we do in the era of the smart phone. It could be that the companies that aid in this would be best positioned to succeed if you can figure out what aspect of this advertising could potentially ruin.

  • I think every person ha the opportunity to create their own experience. If people are bugging you in the web, block them. If brands screw up, generally the web is highly responsive to calling them out. Perhaps the biggest screw-up is intrusive ads and the response is ad-blocking. As I mentioned in the article, this is maybe a do-over for the ad industry and I hope they don;t mess it up again. Bottom line, if you want to have quiet time in the car, what would keep you from doing that? : ) Thanks so much for the thought-provoking comment Amelia!

  • Agree. I think it could be a renaissance for longer content Lori!

  • I love reading anything about driverless cars – I dislike driving (and parking, especially) so am anxiously awaiting the day they become the norm. Somehow, I hadn’t yet considered what they’ll mean for marketing. I think you’re right that they’ll be a big step in the direction of adaptive content that delivers relevant information to a person based on where they are, what they’re doing, and what they need at a given moment.

    If your car’s system is linked to other smart systems consumers use in the home, your car could provide you a reminder that you need more milk as you’re leaving work and suggest the best places to pick up a gallon (maybe even providing info on price differences and available coupons). It would involve marketers and tech companies doing a lot of work to integrate different systems, data, and information, but if it leads to more consuming, the incentive’s there.

  • Nice addition to the discussion sir. Thank you!

  • I like this. Your “to-do” lists follow you from device to device and your car is just another device. My to-do list … sponsored by Procter & Gamble! : )

  • Disruptive technologies are wonderful, this one especially. While we wax on about the great implications, I’m always reminded there will be some companies caught in the shift selling “buggy whips” so to speak. Car insurers are sure to take a hit not that I’m shedding any tears over that. Car manufacturers may be another. They’ll adapt no doubt but what happens to the economy of scale for building cars that aren’t driverless? They’ve pretty well pushed the envelope to the max on vehicle prices or why else are we seeing 72, 84 and even 96 month financing. I joked with my son today they’re moving toward making their year on one vehicle sale 🙂 And while the interiors of driverless cars become personalized cocoons, what about the exterior? Will anyone care since driverless occupants will be focused inward. It’s all good though. This prescribed automotive hallucinogen that Standard Oil, Goodyear and the Big Three put us on for over half century plus had to end somehow. Now it will be Google, er, Alphabet, Apple and Elon Musk delivering us literally and figuratively.

  • Quite a fascinating question. This is a chance for Big Auto to truly re-invent itself but as you say, it probably won’t happen. I could literally see Apple or Google buying a car company. Tesla has the least baggage : )

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  • Terrific article, Mark. Really fun and an important topic. The way you’ve discussed it calls to mind the foresight method called Incasting. You choose a scenario: 1 billion new hours to consume content. You addressed the up sides, you addressed the logistics of how it might work. Missing, though, according to the Incasting model, is the bad news. What’s a potential bad event in this scenario?

  • I don’t know. Help me with that one. I don’t see a unique problem in this scenario that would be any different than consuming at home or in the office.

  • Well, on self-driving cars in general I’ve been seeing some smart people raise the concern that with the personal stress of driving removed, some people will drive too much. More than the roads or the environment can handle. So instituting a per-mile tax is one thing.

    When it comes to the downside of content in cars, I wonder if we’ll see traffic jams caused by Netflix binge viewing! (“Why’s traffic so heavy tonight?” “Oh, a new season of House of Cards was released and a lot of people are just circling around watching it instead of going home to their families.”) There might be some types of content that are inappropriate for people to view in a public roadway, or that are so immersive the passengers fail to notice vehicle warning systems requiring human intervention.

    There’s got to be some problems!

  • Good one. OK here is the bad one … For people with small apartments or who have a lot of roommates, you could call up a car, especially a “movie” car and ride around with friends watching films, adding to traffic congestion. Cars could become a rental living room. Thanks for getting me thinking there Marshall. Good job!

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  • Here’s one: a car on auto-pilot may not mean a driver is free from engaging with the vehicle in essential ways, much like a plane on auto-pilot does not mean that the pilots can leave the cockpit and join passengers for a nap in the main cabin. If and when a truly driverless experience is the norm, all it will take is a handful of accidents to reverse course and require more of a driver-ready experience. If it happens after such immersive entertainment experiences, good luck getting the genie back in the bottle.

  • Well said. The industry will have to tread carefully because the “rules” will be determined by the first problems encountered.

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  • I would love a driverless car. I could get some work done during the commutes, the way I do on buses. And seriously, while there are some things I’d like to think I do better than a robot, driving isn’t one of them. Be honest, people. You don’t drive well. Delegate that.

  • well said sir!

  • Technology is doing more good to the rich than the poor. if driver less cars come in place, lot of people who are drive will lose their jobs, while brands will promote their business and earn money. It is going to widen up the gap between rich and the poor. Besides that we will be expose to more radiations and our sleep patterns will differ. Technology will spoil our health very badly.

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