Personalized commercials, in your car

January 24, 2012

Marketers may soon target drivers with tailored brand messages to build trips when people are nearby and, hopefully, persuaded.

Drivers certainly don’t lack for distractions (cell phones, music, chat) or laws trying to keep them safer and more focused on the road.

However, if brand marketers, retailers and restaurateurs have their way, drivers will soon be singing their slogans as they approach their locations. And they’ll be stopping in because they’ll be persuaded by the relevancy of messages to their preferences and living patterns.  Imagine if a happy birthday enticement of a free meal at McDonald’s (as suggested in a Fast Company piece) suddenly played on your car radio, might your child demand that you turn into the parking lot immediately? 

Grown-ups and kids are about to be moving targets for brand messages in cars – perhaps more so if they give up personal information to marketers in exchange for a purchase discount at the car dealer. The Lempert Report sees a creepy, Big Brother aspect to this, especially if GPS technology is involved to track consumers’ whereabouts.

Yet car interiors haven’t been commercialized yet by the CPG brands, retailers and eateries that want to sell them stuff. Surely, they want in. While we see some potential possibilities for supermarkets and others, we also see potential backlash from overreaching – especially if brand marketing distractions in cars could be legally tied to any accidents that occur.

While marketers figure out how to sell this idea without doing damage, they should also be aware of new Gartner research that shows nearly half (46%) of 18- to 24-year-olds prefer Internet access to having their own car. After all, using cell phones they can chat and text with friends for hours without parental interference; that’s the independence cars used to bring.

So while Ford and other automakers try to turn cars into souped-up smartphones for the next generation, as the New York Times suggests, we see an open question as to whether cars will remain commercial-free zones. Or will people give away their privacy in exchange for a deal?