The autonomous car. It's not ready for the shiny tiled floors just yet, but visit your local Nissan/Mercedes/Volvo/GM dealer in five years and you might see one. That's when the Mayan calendar, Elon Musk, Google and several car companies say the world will end. The world of steering wheels, road rage and traffic jams and wasted, wasted time, that is.
Yes, self-driving cars are rolling toward the on-ramp, and none too soon, as today people spend 4.3 years driving, which, enthusiasts notwithstanding, is for many of us an automotive Black Hole of Calcutta.
I was taking a gander at a trend report from New York-based 360-degree marketing agency Sparks & Honey on what the autonomous driving world might look like from inside the car. It doesn't take a seer to see where this could lead marketers. And it's not hard to find an analog.
Look at aviation, where you're sitting in one place at 35,000 feet for hours, with lots of high-up downtime. Sarah DaVanzo, chief cultural strategy officer at Sparks & Honey, told me that in a self-driving car as on a plane — except with more legroom — one will be productive, get sleep, get entertained, shop, learn a language, or learn about the place they're heading to. But in a car, she points out, there will be far more channels, not least because of the potential smart windows have to engage with the world outside. "It's four years of life that you are gaining back, and it's a goldmine for marketing, whether branded content, entertainment, location-based offers, or advertising opportunities," she says.
Sparks & Honey's presentation, a mosaic of insights from aggregated data, includes fun considerations about what’s possible in the "Honey, I shrunk the Winnebago" in-car world. Interiors, for example, will look and act more like living rooms; smart windows will enhance and transform the real view into a virtual one, plus offer online courses if the view is boring, or integrate with the world zooming past for content, branded or otherwise. There's a jargon for this: MOOCC: massive online open car courses. Never heard of it and I'm trying to figure out how to pronounce it.
It’s more than virtual. Autonomous cars may change the physical landscape as much as the cars did post-WWII. The agency predicts a potential new suburban shift as the car experience will waste less time, and will actually take less time. And the landscape will be festooned with retail locations flung further afield from the typical retail alleys. Location-based e-commerce will make the car a rolling store, cafe, shopping plaza, and the "driver," as Sparks & Honey predicts, will now be the "host," and "car parties" will supplant car pools.
DaVanzo also suggested to me that geo-location, the dissolution of safety concerns and 4G LTE mean all kinds of real-time offers, suggestions, reminders, and targeted messages will descend upon passengers (and all occupants will become passengers) like rain through an open sunroof. And, she predicts, route preferences and habits will optimize on-the-fly offers. “And your pizza parlor will know you’re 10 miles down the road, so you’re pizza will be ready when you get there.”
How about out-of-home advertising? Well, if you aren’t driving, you can spend more time looking. DaVanzo foresees three big ways out-of-home could evolve in the autonomous-car world. "A billboard might change depending on who is going past it. Or it could change to reflect the interests of the collective viewership, serving ads to the group. Or it could be a green screen that becomes an augmented reality experience when seen through the smart window. So the way it appears through the glass is unique to me."
Sparks & Honey recently did a trends study on the "back yard office" phenomenon, where people are creating private spaces for work and leisure. You might call it stationary Airstreaming. The autonomous car, says DaVanzo, will be the diminutive offspring of the Winnebago and the backyard office.