Commentary

OnStar's AtYourService Puts New Spin On 'Marketing Vehicle'

There may still be a few places on earth where consumers can’t be enticed with a targeted promotion for a glazed donut or instantly gratified with the best rate for a hotel room dozen of exits down the interstate but General Motors vehicles with the OnStar service activated will apparently no longer be among them. 

GM announced yesterday “a significantly expanded OnStar in-vehicle concierge service” that it will be featuring during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which formally opens tomorrow, Marco della Cava reports in USA Today.

“The e-commerce play spotlights partnerships with companies such as Dunkin' Donuts, Parkopedia, Audiobooks.com and Priceline, and will offer drivers coupons through RetailMeNot and Entertainment Book,” della Cava writes. “By connecting with live OnStar advisors, consumers will be able to take advantage of specials at a nearby Dunkin' Donuts or book a discounted same-day hotel via Priceline.”

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“The move is part of a push to make cars more of a marketing arena,” writes Christina Rogers in the Wall Street Journal. “Automakers have forged partnerships with many mobile-app makers and tech companies — such as Google and Apple — to expand the range of options for drivers as cars have become more connected.”

“The good news is that the service is opt-in by its nature — you need to request directions from an OnStar Advisor, who would offer promotions to be sent to the car — but there’s little doubt that companies are champing at the bit to capitalize on the car as an ad platform,” observes The Verge’s Chris Zeigler.

Rick Ruskin, head of marketing for OnStar’s online consumer initiative, tells the WSJ’s Rogers that AtYourService “builds upon the 37 million interactions a year OnStar’s advisers have with customers, many of whom are looking for directions.” 

“These are people looking for places to go,” Ruskin says. “OnStar’s AtYourService starts to tap into what to do when you get there.”

Digital coupon services RetailMeNot and Entertainment Book kick into action when someone using OnStar asks for the location of a participating merchant. 

The Priceline partnership, meanwhile, “will allow drivers looking for a hotel to make a reservation directly through the OnStar system,” reports CNNMoney’s Charles Riley. 

“We were seeing a growing segment of our business, with Priceline users making same-day reservations for hotels while driving in their cars,” says Priceline’s Randy Schartner in a statement.

More than 30 GM model-year 2015 autos have 4G LTE connectivity through AT&T, as PCWorld’s Melissa Riofrio points out, but all that wi-fi capability connecting up to seven mobile devices isn’t sitting there “just so your kids can watch YouTube videos in the back seat.”

OnStar will, in fact, also “offer motorists a new service this summer that gives feedback on their driving skills and allows some to seek driving-based discounts from Progressive insurance,” Melissa Burden reports in the Detroit News. (Progressive offers the service already with a device that plugs into most cars’ OBD-II port.”

“The beauty of this program is that control is in the hands of the customer,” says Greg Ross, director of business development and alliances for GM’s Global Connected Consumer Experience, in a statement. “If they wish to participate, we’ll inform them of their driving behavior and then they’re able to choose if they want to share their information with Progressive.”

OnStar “will also make more diagnostic information, such as battery and fuel pump, available to buyers of certain Chevrolet models,” reports Bloomberg’s Keith Naughton.

“The new services show how car companies can use that bandwidth to interact more with the car and its driver — building trust, and also building more business opportunities,” writes PCWorld’s Riofrio. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it’s a new concept: The connected car becomes a vehicle for consumerism.”

Not that our cars haven’t been big-time enablers of consumerism all along and all over but, if we’re catching the drift, this is the start of something else entirely.

“We will continue to innovate in ways that make our customers' time on the road more efficient and more convenient,” says Mark Lloyd, consumer online officer for OnStar, in a statement picked up by ABCNews.

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