A recent announcement from Chevrolet about built-in 4G LTE Wi-Fi furthers the availability of in-car functionality, which could bring opportunities for advertisers and allow marketers to eventually deliver much more targeted experiences by tapping into additional driver details.
Chevrolet is rolling out what it calls the "largest deployment of vehicles with built-in 4G LTE Wi-Fi in the market this summer," and the move will help open up opportunities for advertisers in the in-car services market, experts say.
"Chevrolet is committed to offering consumers advanced technologies that enhance the vehicle ownership experience," a Chevy rep says. "Offering in-vehicle 4G LTE connectivity will allow Chevy owners to have a strong and consistent Wi-Fi connection that can pair up to seven devices."
This feature enables children to remain connected on tablets for streaming movies or playing online games on long road trips and allows small business owners to conduct work remotely, the rep adds.
But Chevy certainly isn't alone in offering in-car services like Wi-Fi.
Audi, too, has an in-car Wi-Fi offering, Audi Connect. And a Tesla rep says its Model S includes 3G connectivity.
And, as ClickZ previously reported, earlier this year, Google announced the Open Automotive Alliance in order to develop Android-based in-car entertainment and information systems for manufacturers like Audi, Honda, and Hyundai.
According to Joe Laszlo, senior director of the Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence at the IAB, the addition of automated data services is a natural evolution for in-car services like GM subsidiary OnStar, which provides subscription-based safety, security, and mobility offerings to more than 7 million consumers.
However, he questions how many consumers will want or need these services, given that many already have smartphones with 4G data services and may not want to shell out additional money.
"What was interesting to me at least was one of the things [Chevrolet emphasizes] is a potentially better connection because a car is a bigger thing than a mobile device and has a bigger antenna," Laszlo says. "Car-based services may be faster and more reliable, but, again, even if the end user discovers that's the case, they'll have to do the mental calculation to determine whether it is worth setting up a new monthly wireless data plan."
At the same time, Jason Burby, president of the Americas at digital agency Possible, points to an always-connected generation of future car buyers who may demand such access. He gives a nod to Audi, which has an audience that skews younger than other luxury players like Mercedes and BMW.
According to Burby, in-car access also adds up to huge potential for location-based targeting, with the caveat that it also dredges up privacy issues.
He says there's a tremendous amount of information marketers can glean from location, which, once privacy issues are sorted out, could help marketers determine where consumers drive, as well as how often and how frequently. It could also give them key information about their daily habits, such as whether they, say, stop at McDonald's every morning or often visit country clubs. That, in turn, could open up opportunities for brands to target specific groups of consumers or to target consumers by habit.
Tobin Trevarthen, founder of Spatial Shift and former vice president of monetization of the AHA Radio and the Harman Cloud Platform, says he was behind an interactive car ad for Quiznos that ran across the AHA platform in December.
In it, promotional content was mapped to a geofence around 900 Quiznos locations. When the offer and address of the nearest location was displayed on a car's dashboard, interested consumers simply pressed the thumbs-up icon on the screen and a coupon was sent to their phones.
"Today in the car, AM, FM, and XM are one-way streams and there's no way to engage with content unless you call or go to the website," Trevarthen says.
However, in addition to location, marketers may eventually be able to tap into a whole slew of driver data, Trevarthen says. In fact, he estimates information such as how long drivers are in their cars and what they are listening to will become addressable in 36 to 48 months.
He says marketers will also be able to know what routes consumers drive and how many people are in the car "so I think you're going to have all new kinds of targeting parameters that will yield very targeted experiences."
And that opens up sponsorship opportunities.
Marketers will also be privy to details such as whether the vehicle is a luxury car or a minivan, which means they will have more context-aware filters and can present more targeted offers or scenarios.
Trevarthen calls it a new "palate" of capabilities on the way. This includes CRM and content marketing coming to the forefront and/or the genesis of an ad hybrid of sorts in which conditional data like rain could generate an audio message that a vehicle has traction control and ask drivers if they want to improve safety.
"Is that an ad? Is that CRM? Is that a native capability that is a new context because the vehicle is now addressable?" Trevarthen asks.
Because of the potential to distract drivers, Laszlo says advertisers and in-car services should be thinking more about the people in the backseat or passenger seat. That means there are opportunities for partnerships between advertisers and kids' programmers.
In addition, Laszlo says the market could see further efforts to extend voice-enabled services like Siri that would allow drivers to access mobile data services more safely.
Trevarthen notes it may also mean brands come up with their own audio cues like Intel has done.
"It may be an alert or a voice or maybe someone comes up with a sound-activated thing...and maybe someone is able to create something along those lines that lets you know you're near a 7-Eleven," Trevarthen says. "You can't do that today."
Laszlo says it will likely be a while before brands have to start thinking about connected cars as a subset of their overall mobile advertising strategies. However, brands like quick-service restaurants or gas stations may find a natural affinity and find opportunities in order to be among the first in the connected car environment.
He also notes there is going to be a "chicken and egg problem" because companies that develop apps will want to see a certain level of adoption and consumers will want to see cool things before they shell out money for connectivity.
"For most other brands, I think it's at the far edges of where their short-term mobile priorities will be," Laszlo says. "A lot of brands will see how consumers react to the offering and how fast adoption grows before they start to talk to agencies about cars."
In addition to ClickZ and Search Engine Watch, Lisa's work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Luxury Spot, LearnVest, MarthaStewart.com, GoodHousekeeping.com, amNewYork, and The Wall Street Journal. She's a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism.
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