Will driverless cars signal a new opportunity for roadside posters?

Driverless car by Maria Ly FlickrThe UK is set to allow driverless cars on the roads of Britain from January 2015. Business secretary Vince Cable said computer-controlled vehicles will be trialled in three cities next year, and the government will be making a £10m fund available for developing the technology in the UK. But what’s this mean for the out of home (OOH) industry?

Alarmists are likely already jumping at the chance to declare this the beginning of the end for roadside OOH sites. After all, if no one’s driving the car, who’s looking at the road and the adverts around it?

 

However, this is a something of a short-sighted position to take. In fact, driverless cars could be of tremendous value to the OOH industry. These automated vehicles will collect and generate a huge amount more data, which will enable advertisers to target their messaging to passengers far more accurately. Data is already being used innovatively for OOH targeting, such as a recent Mini campaign that used car recognition technology to display personalised content whenever a Mini driver passed a poster site. As driverless cars increase the data set available, the techniques and technology used to leverage it will become far more sophisticated.

Driverless cars also open up a huge new area for advertisers, as all of a sudden former drivers will have a great deal of time on their hands. Broadcasters, entertainment companies like Netflix and media giants like Google will be competing over an entirely new smart car entertainment ecosystem. There’s even the potential for these companies to subsidise the cost of the cars to ensure they are a part of the environment. Google’s already been looking at how it can monetise free taxi rides in driverless cars – serving ads in automated taxis to passengers during their ride rather than charging a fare. This opens a new opportunity for OOH to influence consumers’ digital behaviour, an attribute the medium has proven itself to excel at already.

As time moves on and we come to better understand the new consumption behaviours driverless cars will breed, the OOH industry is going to gain a much greater understanding of the impact of location. If driverless cars do become the norm, we’ll need to redefine what makes a ‘good’ OOH location beyond traditional high value locations to entirely new sites designed to capture the attention of a new generation of window gazers.

Passengers may well fill some of their time surfing the web, watching a film or reading a book, but that won’t be all they do. Natural human curiosity to know where you are and what’s out there, the stop-start nature of urban travel and an inevitable increase in motion sickness will keep passengers gazing out of the window. To all the naysayers, I implore you to think back to your last car ride as a passenger – did you take a look out of the window during the ride?

Ben Milne is head of innovation at Posterscope