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Google's Automated Cars: The Perfect Venue For Ads


Imagine this: You’re driving across town to catch a concert by a new artist that friends have been talking about for weeks. Only you’re not really driving. The car is driving itself. And you’re actually paying as much attention to the video screen on your car’s dashboard as anything.

You’ve already bought the singer’s latest album and it’s stored in your car’s hard drive. As you listen, some ads pop-up on the screen inviting you to “like” the artist on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. There are also ads offering tickets to see her perform, but you don’t need those. You do need a place to eat before the show, and your car has that covered, too. The GPS system knows where you are, and after you click the “Dining” button on the touchscreen, ads start to show up for nearby places to eat. They appear on the map and disappear as soon as you drive past them. The car’s computer knows you’re getting low on gas, so it starts to show ads for service stations — complete with current prices — as you travel. And when you get close to the venue, ads start to show up for convenient parking garages.

It sounds like a scene out of The Jetsons, but I’m betting it’s also coming to our roads some day thanks to the news this weekend that Google is working on cars that can drive themselves.

Think about it: Your car is the ultimate local advertising venue.

  • You’re a totally captive audience inside. It’s not like you can get up and go to the kitchen or bathroom to skip the ads.
  • You’re almost always driving somewhere with a specific goal in mind, often something that has commercial intent.
  • Ads can be targeted to your location as you travel.
  • It’s basically an untapped revenue source.

As I said on Twitter, imagine the money to be made if you control the in-car advertising market. Huge.

Pieces Already In Place

If you still think it sounds far-fetched, consider that most of the pieces are already in place for this.

Automated Cars
When cars can drive themselves, we won’t need to focus our full attention on the road. And if we’re not watching the road, we’ll be watching something else. You can bet Google will want that — whatever it is — to have ads. Or be ads. Google’s ads. Automated cars are not “already in place,” of course, but we know they’re on the way.

Google In Your Car
Automated or not, countless cars already have Google inside. Way back in 2007, Google and BMW launched in-car Google search, giving drivers “access to all the information from Google Maps while you enjoy your drive.” More recently, Google announced that its Send-To-Car Google Maps service is available on more than 20 car brands in 19 countries.

Locally-targeted Ads
Google has offered local ad targeting for years through its AdWords platform.

All The World’s An (Ad) Canvas

Google didn’t specifically say anything about ads in its announcement. The company painted automated cars as more about safety and going green:

Our goal is to help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use.

But that phrase in the middle — “free up people’s time” — is interesting. For something that can be sold to advertisers, perhaps? Well, the New York Times article about Google’s automated cars suggests that’s not on the radar.

The Google researchers said the company did not yet have a clear plan to create a business from the experiments.

But let’s face it: While that may be true of the engineers and researchers who are developing the self-driven car technology and its artificial intelligence, you can bet that the money people inside Google HQ — the folks who view the world as one giant advertising canvas and wake up in the morning thinking of new places to put ads – are already thinking about the business implications.

It’s not hard to imagine the new product: AdWords for Cars.

(image at top from BMW.com)

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