The center stack in your car isn't just for cranking up the air conditioning or flipping over to a new radio station anymore. In fact, thanks to the likes of Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and the rest of the growing in-car app marketplace, the whole concept of the average commuter's "daily drive" and what happens once you get behind the wheel is being reimagined right in front of our eyes.

Aside from making the trip to and from work a lot more interesting, having access to these apps also allows for a whole new take on digital advertising. To bring you up to speed on this emerging connection, as well as uncover what it means for both the automotive and marketing industries moving forward, let's take a few minutes to talk about why the future of consumer outreach most assuredly sits at the intersection of "smart" vehicles and in-car ad content.

The Next "Must-Have" Mobile Device

Before we start looking at the evolution of ads that integrate with dashboard touchscreens and other built-in features, it's important to explain exactly why these once disparate industries are converging in the first place.

"Cars are essentially becoming the next must-have mobile device."
- Jason Harrison, CEO of Gain Theory

As Jason Harrison - industry expert and chief executive officer (CEO) of digital marketing consulting firm Gain Theory - notes in his look at the rise of the connected automobile, today's consumers are clamoring for more tech-friendly features with each passing day. With this in mind, it makes plenty of sense for monetization to follow suit via ad content specifically designed for this emerging platform.

(Quick aside: If you're interested in learning more about the actual technology behind smart cars, how they fit into today's online community, and the ramifications of bringing the digital world with you on your next road trip, be sure to check out our post on the growing bond between the automotive world and the Internet of Things [IoT] here.)

To give you a little perspective on just how important having access to this kind of digital integration is to today's car buyer, as well as why marketers are practically drooling over the opportunity to get their hands on this new outreach channel, take a look at this infographic from the team over at AutoTrader (via Adweek's Christopher Heine):

(Click To Expand)

While all of these findings point to a future in which automotive and technology are synonymous with one another, the stat at the bottom of the image regarding the fact that 77 percent of consumers prefer advanced technology features to the color of the car in question is the tidbit that should really be jumping off the screen right about now.

"The automotive industry will design new automobiles that allow consumers to maximize their entertainment experiences. Cars will become modular and can be altered based on long/short-haul trips or type of entertainment/work experience that is needed in the car."
- Terry Young, CEO of Sparks & Honey

It might not seem all that impressive initially, but this particular result from AutoTrader's study speaks to a major shift in the ideology of car buyers across the country: New cars (especially autonomous or "self-driving" models) are moving further and further away from merely serving as a means of transportation and heading closer to full-fledged sources of entertainment.

Uncovering the Potential for New Marketing Frontiers and Advertising Opportunities

Now that we've successfully laid out why the increasing demand for smart cars virtually ensures that in-car marketing is a phenomenon that's waiting just beyond the horizon, it's time to talk about what these advertising opportunities could look like in the near future. The best way to kick this part of the story into high gear is by breaking up the discussion into three separate categories: Monetizing existing in-car services, location-based marketing, and the raw data accumulated by WiFi enabled vehicles.

Monetizing the Center Stack

The first - and most obvious - way for advertising to sneak into the daily drive of the average consumer comes in the form of marketing brands and services on existing in-car platforms. Specifically, we're talking about integrated systems - like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay - that leverage WiFi and cellular connectivity to bring the web on the road.

In many ways, this outreach approach follows in the footsteps of more traditional advertising tactics (e.g. acquiring impressions via a programmatic network or purchasing ad space from an established website) that car dealerships and digital marketers alike already utilize on a regular basis. The big difference, though, is that this digital channel is still fairly new to the scene, so optimization and refinement tactics are very much in the "working out the kinks" phase of the process.

Speaking of the emerging relevance of marketing to consumers via connected automobiles, we'd be remiss if we didn't offer up the caveat that Pandora - the biggest name in the world of Internet radio - has already been offering in-car ad services for integrated dashboard systems since 2014. However, with the advent of connected cars within virtually every manufacturer's current and future model lineups, as well as a plethora of new apps being released into the marketplace with each passing day, it's safe to say that Pandora's take on monetizing the center stack is just the first of many such new channels for consumer outreach.

Location-Based Ad Content

Of course, today's online marketing industry has come a long way from relying solely on banner and skyscraper ads to connect with customers, so it only makes sense to also point out that serving standard ad content is far from the limits of in-car advertising's potential. ClickZ's Lisa Lacy understands this concept, which is why she explains in her piece on dashboard-based marketing opportunities that the logical next step for this type of outreach comes in the form of connecting interested customers with geographically relevant content.

"In-car access also adds up to huge potential for location-based targeting…"
- Lisa Lacy, ClickZ

Essentially, virtually every WiFi-enabled or digitally-connected vehicle also has access to GPS services, so it makes plenty of sense to pair the two up and learn even more about the habits and preferences of target consumers. Once an advertiser has this information in hand, he or she can then set up a "geofence" and serve unique ad content (complete with a triggered call to action [CTA] that often interfaces with the SMS or email capabilities of the user's phone) to the driver's dashboard app when this person crosses the boundaries of this GPS-based "marketing net."

The big takeaway here? By leveraging location-based technologies, in-car advertising can finally leave behind the one-way stream of communication offered up by AM, FM, and XM channels and become a truly interactive experience.

Big Data Gets a Little Bigger

"[In-car advertising is] just so rich… The car is effectively a one-ton cookie."
- Fred Sattler, Senior Vice President of MediaLink

Even if the idea of reaching out to potential customers when they're behind the wheel never fully realizes its advertising potential, you can still trust in the fact that incorporating vehicles into the IoT will at least expand the digital world's understanding of what makes consumers tick via an influx of invaluable data and user insight.

And if you know anything about the online advertising industry, then you know that marketers and brands alike are always ready and willing to jump at pretty much any new opportunity if it means adding more info to their ever-growing treasures troves of "Big Data."

As far as how impactful this deluge of new data will really be, Adweek's Marty Swant and the aforementioned Christopher Heine point out that forecasting this piece of the puzzle is far from an easy or straightforward affair. However, it's fairly certain that we'll have a stronger understanding of the following metrics and habits once the data really starts flowing:

  • Recurring travel routes.
  • Temperature preferences.
  • Daily routines. (Stopping at a certain McDonald's for coffee each morning, favorite local newsstands, etc.)
  • Enhanced analytics on music and radio selection.

Basically, as long as the user consents to let these center stack apps and programs come along for the ride, then the sky is the limit in regard to what we can learn about the consumer once he or she puts the pedal to the metal.

So What's Next?

Naturally, everything we've talked about so far has really just been the tip of the iceberg in terms of where in-car advertising could end up over the coming years - doubly so once you start factoring in the continued development of autonomous vehicles and other self-driving technological advances.

"In the end, tech won't seem different whether you are using it at home, at work, or the time spent in the car. Whatever you have in your living room, you will have in your 'auto room.'"
- Thomas Müller, Audi Engineer for Developing Braking, Steering, and Driver-Assistance Systems

Think of it this way: If the above quote from Audi's Thomas Müller holds true, then it's only a matter of time before marketing opportunities become ubiquitous across all makes, models, and manufacturers; especially when you stop and consider the fact that making the drive into work or heading over to the grocery store in Müller's not so distant future will look a lot less like the infamous opening traffic jam scene from "Office Space" and a lot more like when you park yourself on the couch to catch your favorite show or binge-watch your way through a new series on Netflix.

To wrap all of this up into a nice, neat little package, let's some everything that we've covered so far up into one quick and easy statement:

The future of mobile advertising and Big Data most certainly can be found on the highway.

From this perspective, the only thing left to do now is sit back and watch as the brands and manufacturers that understand the implications of this big technological shift leave behind those members of the community who cling to dated practices and yesterday's viewpoints.