Why Your Car May Soon Be Driving Digital Advertising

Steve Rubel on Digital Communications

By Published on .

If you think there's already enough to distract you in your life, just wait. With Americans spending 100 hours a year commuting, according to the Census Bureau, the internet is coming to your car in a big way -- and not just to the front seat either.

Dashboard navigation systems provide a natural entry point. Year-over-year unit sales of GPS devices grew nearly 500% during the 2007 holiday season, according to NPD.

Steve Rubel
Photo: JC Bourcart
Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP in Edelman's Me2Revolution practice.
Several GPS manufacturers such as Tele Atlas, which supplies systems to the automakers, already display the logos of nearby fast-food restaurants' gas stations. However, the screens are quickly getting more useful -- or cluttered, depending on your point of view. Navigon's high-end model, for example, features helpful restaurant reviews and ratings from Zagat.

Soon, devices that can both send and receive data will hit the market. Dash, for example, is integrating Web 2.0 crowdsourcing into its systems, allowing cars to send information back to the company to improve traffic calculations. As mobile broadband becomes more ubiquitous, it's conceivable that these devices will soon talk to your cellphone via Bluetooth and, thus, talk to social networks as well.

With send/receive capabilities and overall bandwidth improving, local contextual advertising, perhaps rich-media-based, is just around the corner. Google already allows users in Europe to send directions from the web to maps on connected dashboards. Microsoft is working in a system through its Sync technology to provide ad-supported, location-based information for which users would normally pay. (Disclosure: Microsoft and Zagat are clients of Edelman, my employer.)

The back seat offers perhaps more immediate promise for TV advertisers in search of new venues. In March Sirius and Chrysler launched an in-car video network called Backseat TV. The subscription service carries kids programming from Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel and Cartoon Network. Kids weaned on the service will surely demand more as the technology gets more sophisticated, perhaps to the chagrin of parents.

And therein lies the rub: Marketers will need to strike a careful balance to protect privacy and to not push into a space that many consider sacrosanct. However, given the size and captive nature of the in-car audience, the digital-advertising potential is becoming very clear.
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