Welcome to the fast lane of advertising innovation.
You may have seen last week’s news about one of Google's self-driving cars being pulled over in California for driving too slowly, or you may have seen that driverless Google cars have already made their way from California to Texas. It goes to show that the future of transportation is closer than we think, but what does that mean for the future of advertising?
Not too long ago, Austin, TX, gave the green light for Google to supplement its existing fleet of retrofitted SUVs with its own prototype vehicles. The most striking thing about these cars is that they don’t come with a steering wheel or pedals. This means the driver is mostly free to text or surf the web or do just about anything he or she wants on a mobile device without worrying about being distracted from the road. While that's more search and ad revenue for Google in the short term, there are other advertising possibilities that sound almost as futuristic as the cars themselves.
1. Location-based advertising finally takes off.
Google scrapped a secret Google Maps project that would allow retailers to send users push notifications on their phones using beacon technology, believing it might be too invasive. The technology would allow a user to be notified upon entering a store of promotional offers or even potentially pull up a digital version of a customer’s rewards card on the lock screen of his or her phone.
Google's concerns were valid. A lot of customers may not respond favorably to the idea of a retailer hijacking their phone to send them unsolicited advertisements. After all, our phone is one of our most personal possessions. It goes where we go. But what if this sort of location-based advertising were part of the ad network for say, a Google driverless taxi? Rather than competing with proprietary ad networks owned by taxi holding companies in cities like NYC, Google can instead focus on its own futuristic ad network across its own fleet of robot cabs.
This applies to privately owned cars as well. Imagine yourself in your own self-driving car. Instead of just seeing a low fuel light, location-based technology could send you real time information about the cheapest gas prices nearby. You select the best option and watch as your car takes the directions displayed on the console — turning left on onto Commerce for .5 miles, then right onto the I35 access road for .1 miles, now turning left into the Valero gas station. Please enjoy this digital coupon for a free coffee. The possibilities are almost endless.
2. In-vehicle paid content becomes part of your commute.
Right now Google’s test cars are capped at 25 mph and only handle short routes on city streets. In the future, we’ll see driverless cars at normal driving speeds on higher speed roadways making much longer trips. Why not have the equivalent of an in-flight movie or other content? We’ll undoubtedly see multiple screens and larger consoles in later self-driving cars making this seem like a natural option.
We could see subscription-based content like Netflix or Hulu, especially with Apple’s renewed interest in self-driving cars. A paid or subscription-based content approach is certainly more in line with their business model than Google's advertising-based one. In the future, you won’t just be listening to your iTunes playlist in the car, you’ll be be binge-watching House of Cards through Apple TV.
3. How about promotional, themed cars?
Of course, it's possible that self-driving cars remain a novelty for some time rather than quickly becoming a normal part of everyday life. Perhaps we could see special themed cars to promote the release of a new summer blockbuster movie or video game. Rather than ads or streaming television, passengers would see trailers for these upcoming releases, or even play the video game while in the car. Imagine Microsoft or Sony with the Xcar or Playstationwagon, or some other tech behemoth with deep pockets and bad puns.
4. B2B becomes part of the picture.
Over half of all rental cars are business-related, so it’s no surprise that Uber recently rolled out Uber for Business. B2B stands to play a huge role in the future of self-driving cars. One of the easiest things to imagine is a mobile office where passengers can access their work email, applications, and databases. Some cars may be Microsoft Office-compatible, or maybe you're making some last minute design tweaks in your Adobe Car. Have an important video conference scheduled for the moment you're stuck in standstill traffic? No problem. Just Skype through the windshield.
Anything is possible.
What if ads paid for your ride? How about animated window billboards? We're already seeing advertising and transportation intersecting in new ways. If you've taken a Lyft recently, you may have noticed that one of your transportation options is "Bieber," which upsells you the latest Justin Bieber album along with your ride.
It's time to start thinking about these opportunities now, because they’ll be here before you know it. In terms of driverless cars, advertising innovation is one way to stay in the driver’s seat.