I Love My GPS: Hold The Unsolicited Ads

No need to stop for directions at the next gas station--or the one after that. Handheld navigators are headed for Main Street. And while their owners like the new technology, the majority don't want to see it turned into an unsolicited advertising vehicle.

Nearly 30% of American households either have a Global Positioning System device or plan to buy one this year, according to an exclusive Marketing Daily survey prepared by Synovate.

Similar to other new technologies, early adopters tend to be higher-income. One out of five, or nearly 20% of respondents with incomes of $75,000 or more, said they have a GPS device. About 10% of people earning $25,000 to $75,000 own a GPS, and 3% of people earning under $25,000 have one.

"We will see the GPS move more into the mainstream as prices continue to drop and consumers become more aware of its benefits," says Steve Levine, senior vice president for technology, telecom and consumer electronics at Synovate, which conducted the online survey of 1,000 U.S. adults over age 18. It's balanced to be representative of the general population.

Dollar sales reflect the growing GPS trend. U.S. sales grew to $338 million in the first nine months of 2006--up from $148 million in the same period a year earlier, reports NPD Group. The sales increase is attributed in part to new products, heavier marketing, and a drop in the average GPS price to under $800 from about $1,000.

There are so many new GPS products introduced each year, a person can get lost just thinking about them.

Market leader Garmin alone introduces 70 new GPS products annually, said spokesman Ted Gartner. The company, which sells the popular Nuvi brand, accounts for 47% of U.S. sales; No. 2 Magellan more than doubled its share to 19% between October and November 2006, and TomTom is No. 3 with an 11% share, according to NPD.

Competition is certain to intensify as more companies enter the field, including Sony, Nokia, Phillips, Rand-McNally and Michelin, along with GPS services provided by cell phone marketers and other suppliers.

Newcomer Dash Navigation claims to be the first to link the Internet to a GPS device. Its Dash Express navigator constantly updates road conditions and traffic patterns, and will offer alternative routes if things look grim. It also lets users conduct narrow, neighborhood searches. For example, if a user types "fajitas" into the search field, Dash Express will provide a list of nearby restaurants that serve the item, even if "fajitas" isn't in the name.

The Marketing Daily/Synovate survey found that nearly half of GPS owners consider safety to be the product's most important attribute. Other interesting nuggets:

  • Nearly 40% of owners said they get less frustrated because of their GPS
  • 39% have tossed aside navigational aids such as MapQuest and Yahoo Maps
  • 32% said they use printed maps, AAA and compasses less often
  • 27% said they no longer have to ask for directions
  • 15% of owners said their GPS has changed their life.

    GPS owners are somewhat receptive to receiving marketing information on their GPS systems--but only if they ask for it.

    Among respondents who own a GPS system, 44% said they are interested in having the device guide them to area restaurants and attractions. But 75% said they "would hate it" if their navigator started receiving unsolicited advertising.

    "The GPS is an emerging form of advertising, like wireless and video games. But the companies have to carefully balance revenue potential with infringing on core functionality," said Ross Rubin, an NPD analyst.

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