The Connected Car: A New Ad Platform

The next new advertising platform is the car. That’s what last week’s foray into the wilds of Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show taught us. In the not-too-distant future, you’ll sit in your self-driving car watching a big screen on which will be displayed all the apps from your smartphone, the computer that powers your  entertainment system.

The technology in cars has become so advanced that they can really drive themselves, and the only thing holding them back is the network of regulators, road builders, and vehicle owners that will support tomorrow’s self-driving cars. For the vision of an autonomous car to become real, roads will have to be built smarter, cities and states will have to pass appropriate safeguards, and consumers will have to be willing to give up the thrill of driving.

So none of that will happen much before 2025 in the eyes of most prognosticators, but that doesn’t mean the concept cars weren’t available in Vegas–concept cars built on top of the Tesla, the Chevy, the Ford, and even a Mercedes Benz self-driving car that’s available (but not legal) today.

What does that mean for brands? The technology that is already rolling out in this year’s cars (I bought a 2016 Honda Accord last week with all of it) includes all the safety features like lane departure signals, backup and parking cameras, lane change assistance, adaptive cruise control that brakes when you get too close to the person in front of you, and 360 degree camera visibility. But it also includes new entertainment features like Apple CarPlay and Google’s AndroidPlay. Cars that have one of them usually have both. The carmakers who have deployed them this week are the ones who’ve decided to abandon the attempt to build their own, always inferior, entertainment systems and just adapt what Apple and Google have already perfected.

With CarPlay, when you connect your phone to the car through a USB cable, Apple software makes a selection of apps it thinks are save to use while driving and transfers them to your car’s display screen. The display screens, for their part, are getting larger and larger; I saw one on a Tesla that was the size of the new iPad Pro. You can now operate your phone from your car’s display, or use Siri (or Google) to voice-operate the car.

In my car, the available apps include text, phone, Audible, Overcast, Podcasts, maps, Spotify and Tune-in radio. The significance is that all the chosen apps are selected from what is already on my phone — the apps I already use. For marketers, this could provide further information about who I am. And for creatives who come up with the right formats to advertise to me in the car, I’m a sitting duck.

For the car, it won’t be video for the next little while, it will be audio: in-app audio. We will have to train the app, the car, and the ad server to work together to decide whether I get an audio ad because I’m in the car or a video ad as I stand in line at the grocery. We predict that this will be the year of in-app advertising, and perhaps campaigns that can follow consumers from the house to the car and into the store.