You won’t automatically turn into Will Smith from iRobot, Tom Cruise from the Minority Report, nor will you start seeing Lightning McQueen cruising the streets. What you can expect however, is a self-driving car that will gift you ‘time’. Time is the highly palatable by-product of what self-driving cars, or autonomous vehicles will offer users.

As an aside, see if you can count the total number of movie references throughout this content piece.

Before we get ahead of ourselves…

What is a self-driving car?… and

What on earth does this have to do with digital marketing?

I always liked the concept that driverless transport would feel a lot like The Knight Rider, featuring the Hoff and autonomous sports car, ‘KITT’. Unfortunately, in reality, the birth of the autonomous vehicle is much less like a Hollywood movie, and more accurately resembles that of a driverless taxi. The elemental nature of self-driving cars won’t change. You will still be getting from points A-Z (you hope). The true benefit is the user experience; more specifically, spare time. You will be able to sit back, relax, and fill this time doing whatever you like (within the confines of the law, folks!). From a scientific standpoint, for the tech-heads and newly-informed, Techopedia defines the self-driving car as a “vehicle that can guide itself without human conduction” – sounds a little less badass than the Knight Rider, but is fundamentally accurate.

Likewise, the user-experience will be a little less action orientated than Will Smith and Tom Cruise in the above action movies, though invaluable to everyday life – a greatest thing since sliced bread, if you will.

Which brings us to the next question – What does this have to do with online marketing services?

Let’s do a little test on how you arrived at this page, and see if the question answers itself.

  1. How did you find this content piece?
  2. What device are you using to read this on?

I’ll hazard a guess and say that no matter how you found this article

  1. The referring channel was digital – say Facebook, Google, backlink or a digital advert somewhere, AND
  2. There’s a 51% chance that you’re reading this on a mobile device – a tablet, phone or laptop.

Hopefully you know where this is going (here’s a hint – DIGITAL)…

Before we dig into the good stuff, here’s a bit of a background on driverless cars –

Self-driving, driverless or autonomous (use whichever phrase you like) vehicles have been in existence for close to forty years – in extreme beta. In the 1980’s, the then called ‘self-sufficient cars’ were being researched and tested for consumer use by “Carnegie Mellon University’s Navlab and ALV projects in 1984, and Mercedes-Benz and Bundeswehr University Munich’s Eureka Prometheus Project in 1987”, according to Fast forward 20 odd years and autonomous vehicle technology had accelerated into the mining industry for functional purposes – like any new technology, the goal was to provide a faster, easier, safer and more cost effective way of achieving the same goal. Now jump Back to the Future, and come present day, the likes of Volvo, Mercedes, Google, Tesla and more are reinventing the ‘space race’ by working ferociously to produce the most desirable, commercially scalable, autonomous vehicle for the Average Joe.

Now that you’re up to speed, how will self-driving cars change digital marketing?

To begin with, remember the two-question test above? I hope so. The reoccurring buzz word was “digital”. Without digital, the conversation ends here.

Now we’re on the cusp of covering the marketing aspects of this article, but first, try to digest these facts and keep them in mind as we move forward –

Digital Usage

The average person spends

  • 90 mins on their phone per day.
  • Amounting to 23 days a year.
  • Totalling 3.9 years of the average person’s life.

Now consider

  • We spend more time online per day than we do sleeping,


  • 51% of this time is satisfied through mobile device usage

What we’re essentially looking at is a captive digital audience en masse – globally.

Now, think about how much time you spend commuting each day – either in a car or public transport? (once driverless cars become the norm, public transport will become increasingly redundant).

It may shock you to know that studies indicate that on average, we spend approximately 3 hours a day driving and/or commuting.

We’re also basically addicted to mobile and being connected.

Combine these two data points together and it’s looking like a perfect storm of demand and supply.

Avergae mobile web users on digital media

Now let’s sink our teeth into the really juicy digital marketing related stuff in autonomous vehicles.

With so such large volumes of digital engagement, marketers and advertisers should aim to gain relevant consumers attention and engagement. The key here is attracting relevant consumers. Getting in front of the correct consumer will ultimately reduce CPA and has a tendency to salvage otherwise wasted ad spend. A best practice method is to attract the customer with highly valuable and unique information that engages their interest and increases purchaser intent

Time. The World’s Currency

“Time is now the currency. We earn it and spend it…. I just wanna wake up with more time on my hand than hours in the day” (Will Sallis, In Time).

Arm clock from the movie 'In-Time' with Justin Timberlake

A huge benefit of the self-driving car is that the driver becomes the passenger, and as passengers, travel time will become free time. This is the pretext to this whole blog post, so from a digital marketing perspective, it’s time to start thinking about every single driver on the road from here on out as transitioning from driver to passenger, with each and every person gaining more TIME to spend/invest in the best ways they see fit.

If we take into account the consumption of digital usage outlined above, we can modestly say that as marketers and business professionals, we too have been gifted an additional 2-3 hours a day that we can use to provide product and service information to potential customers.

As consumers in a digital world, time is the most valuable resource. So as digital marketers, our goal should be to provide consumers with relevant, useful content, in order to turn searchers into transactional consumers. Potential customers may fit within one of the following search categorisations based on the user’s intent – informational, transactional or navigational – so service your consumer by expediting their search for information.


We can speculate all we like about how new digital marketing channels and opportunities will arise from the production of driverless cars (and we will, read on to find out more). But first, think about your current marketing spend (I sincerely hope the vast majority is invested in digital means). It’s probably distributed based on your goals – conversion rate, exposure, engagement for example – across the following channels: PPC, social, emails, remarketing, content marketing, automation, offline marketing… and more.

So we know where our marketing budget is spent. Now think about what the passenger of a driverless car might get up to now that they have so much more time to engage in digital means….

Web browsing, online shopping, Netflix’n’Chill (Orange is the New Black and House of Cards are must-see), social media, gaming apps (Clash of Clans and Candy Crush are hitting home runs), Tinder(?), or perhaps posting a Google+ review on Google Business for a local bar. These channels all rely on digital engagement and present a plethora of advertising opportunities. I know this isn’t news to you, but think about these mediums in congruence with your autonomous vehicle. A good number of the digital marketing trends unravelling in 2016 and beyond are nicely constructed to showcase in autonomous vehicles. This will include relevant, real-time, location-based ads, directly to your mobile device – we will go into more detail below.

And so in begs the question, what can we do to creatively market to passengers during their 2-3 hour daily commute, using current and trending channels, in a non-disruptive and informative way?

As a generalist digital marketing Goals Hack, consider these four steps when it comes to utilising channels for to achieve business goals:

  • What are your goals? If you have not identified your business goals, go back to the drawing board, because this will only end in misery.
  • Identify appropriate channels for digital advertising.
  • Set a budget and stick to it until you complete step four.
  • Analyse the results of your digital advertising efforts and quantify the return against your business goals[/su_spoiler]

Digital Marketing Channels for Driverless Cars behold

Let’s run through some of the must-know channels that will dictate the success of our digital marketing efforts within the sprawl of autonomous vehicle production.

Intelligent Marketing

Location-based advertising and Geo-targeting

These elements are the Starsky and Hutch dynamic duo that solidify the relationship between digital marketing and autonomous vehicles. In simple terms:

  1. Location-based advertising is a technology that pinpoints a mobile user’s location to provide location specific ads.
  2. Geo-targeting uses a person’s physical location to publish content to web visitors based on their geo-location. Directories and international websites predominantly use this technology

It’s 7pm on a Thursday night and you have made dinner plans with your best pal. You’re in your self-driving car affectionately named ‘KITT’, with your mobile device wirelessly connected to your car, feeding navigational instructions. As you busily scroll through your Facebook feed on your way to your favourite restaurant, an ad pops up offering you a 15% discount on your first meal at a new boutique restaurant 5km up the road. Naturally you can’t pass this offer up! So you capitalise on the opportunity by tagging your friend in the post and tell ‘KITT’ to change course so that you and your friend can try out this new hot spot, with the complimentary 15% discount.

Kitt from the knight Rider

As per driving laws in many countries, using your phone while driving is illegal (no-brainer), so the opportunity to intercept a potential customer en route to their favourite restaurant simply isn’t currently possible. Soon, with autonomous vehicles freeing passengers from the legalities of accessing the internet while driving, advertisers will be able to present offers to customers with a high purchaser intent based on real-time data – How? You know they’re travelling to a restaurant nearby, your restaurant is around the corner, and the passenger is scrolling through Facebook – hey presto, relevant ads grab their attention.

The same principle could apply based on travel patterns for your morning coffee and more…

This sort of scenario will become increasingly common and more sophisticated than current geo/location targeting, but it provides context for the purpose of relevance. We can hypothesise that as driverless vehicle technology advances, you won’t even need to be using a mobile device to be presented with these adverts, the technology will form part of the cars off-the-shelf package when purchased from a dealer.

If your business is suitable, setup some low budget campaigns or update your website and put the above principles into practice to see how this impacts your business.

In-Vehicle Marketing

If trains can have televisions promoting ad partner content and busses can plaster the inside of their vehicle with posters, why can’t intelligent advertising integrations form part of a self-driving cars genetic makeup? From augmented/holographic head-up displays (HUD); to LED monitors, cognitive voice over and language processing, and various app/firmware updates. To put this in plain terms, all internal surfaces could be high resolution screens for display advertising, streaming your favourite movies, or as secondary monitors for your laptop. The additional advertising real estate present enormous opportunity at what could be cost efficient. What we’re talking about is leveraging a range of advertising and marketing technologies that are already accessible, and embedding them as freestanding applications within your car – this Go-Go-Gadget car is starting to sound like a marketer’s new best friend!

go go gadet car

Much like intelligent marketing and in-vehicle marketing, revolutionary ideas that catapult businesses into the stratosphere come from adopting a lateral thought process when it comes to marketing practices that don’t yet exist. We encourage you to be a contributor of technology advancement within the digital marketing industry, so your business can keep up.

New Ways to Shop While Fully Reclined

Sit back, put your chair in full recline, and start finger smashing your mobiles touchscreen, because there’s no time like the present to do some online shopping.

eCommerce – or Online shopping – sales still account for less than 10% of online vs. retail shopping in developed countries, including Australia and USA. But consider this:

  • Autonomous vehicles will hit the streets with overwhelming volume, and
  • When they do, there will not be a scenario where fully autonomous vehicles and manned vehicles share the same highway – due to safety issues.
  • When these vehicles hit our roads, they will replace all manned vehicles in the region – e.g. Consider a driverless conversion of all cars within a 5-10 hour drive of your house.

With 1.2 billion cars operating globally in 2014, and average commuting times reaching 2 hours per day, we’re talking about an additional 2.4 billion hours of potential mobile browsing time every year that will be used for online shopping and other digital ancillary tasks. The resulting impact will be fierce competition among businesses and advertising costs will explode – basically an all-out Braveheart battle on the digital landscape, minus the bloodshed.

So not only will there be opportunities for increased visibility, but also a requirement to be damn good at optimising campaigns through programmatic, website/mobile optimisation, RTB, social media advertising, remarketing etc.

Online sales continue to skyrocket alongside web enquiries. The amount of time that consumers spend both purchasing and enquiring online will be exemplified through Autonomous Vehicles. Until then, whether you are an online or offline business, ensure that you capitalise on the opportunities presented through digital means that will help you achieve your business goals.

Personalised, customer-centric marketing

Now I’m not talking about holding the customer’s hand. Personalised marketing in autonomous vehicles will involve a combination of:

  • Granular targeting for campaigns, backed by
  • Detailed big data analysis (possibly algorithm generated like programmatic).

Compared to Google’s ‘Custom Match’ and Facebook’s ‘Custom Audience’, in-vehicle’s real-time targeting capabilities through connectivity will be more like hyper-personalised marketing.

[su_spoiler title=”Living Online Tip 7″ class=”my-custom-spoiler”]Focus your efforts on delivering a message to relevant audiences, in a personalised fashion. Short and long term, this will have a positive impact on conversions.[/su_spoiler]

Connectivity through IoT – you’ll never be alone again

The Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming all the hype as its commercial application becomes increasingly digestible to marketers, businesses and the general public. In its most basic and relevant form, we’re talking about device-device and user-device communication. Marketo believes that IoT will supply “endless opportunities for marketers and advertisers to listen and respond to the needs of their audience based on behaviours” – their infographic through iScoop is worth a gander.

Productivity before and after work

Surely we all work hard enough already, right? Gruelling hours, tireless report writing, spreadsheets a plenty, and exhaustive growth hacking… If you’re shaking your head, don’t worry, this will apply to you.

With all this extra time at our fingertips, consider how much more productive we can be with our working day. There’s no reason why emails couldn’t be expedited; business calls be knocked on the head nice and early; projects left to the last minute could be extended by a whole 1 or 2 hours – university students are guaranteed to thrive on this…

Business professional using laptop in car

Consider as well that the commute home may also present an opportunity to leave work 30-90 minutes early as you complete final tasks in the car – assuming you don’t get too distracted by the influx of creative digital marketing collateral.

Subsidisation – Technology acquisition with a reduced price tag

“Subsidising through advertising”

The first and most obvious autonomous vehicle subsidy is “subsidising through advertising”. Consider introducing autonomous vehicles to Uber X – an already affordable ride sharing service – then add optional advertising within the vehicle via built in, internal displays. For the customer, we then reduce their transportation fee by subsiding the fee through digital advertising.

“Click and drive through”

Coined in the Living Online office, “click and drive through” presents an enormous opportunity for businesses to leverage an autonomous vehicle subsidy through customer incentives. If you make a purchase at any large grocery retailer, or clothing megastore, you will likely be offered some sort of VIP membership for discounts or a voucher for your next shop. Instead, retailers of all kinds can offer their customers credit for an autonomous vehicle ride for their next store visit, or provide transportation to pick up their newly purchased electronics. The cost may be significantly less for retailers, while the benefit for customers remains omnipresent – the big selling point here is convenience

“Subsidisation through streaming media providers”

This is essentially an exchange service for media companies to acquire new service subscribers while offering free transportation. If Spotify and Netflix offered you a joint subscription that included free transportation, would you be on board?

Tying it all together

How will we make this work? It doesn’t really matter which of the above (and more) come into fruition for marketers, as long as we adapt to the new environment.
We, collectively, need to be agile in our approach to developing digital marketing strategies that will provide a gateway for us and our customers to promote products and services to this new relevant audience. As it stands, “agile marketing” strategies are in the early adopter’s phase – most people only apply tried and true methods of marketing, which means that they’re often late to the party on new developments. This also means that they’re often subjected to the law of shitty clickthroughs. To take advantage of the early-mover benefits that will undoubtedly be present on the ‘digital marketing in autonomous vehicles’ front, it’s important to be willing to venture where no one has gone before.

What will be next?

Now take a breath. Well done. This is a lot of information to digest, so let me cleanse your mind with a few key points worth remembering.

  • Who?
    • YOU!

american army recruiting we want you

  • What?
    • Autonomous Vehicles – Self-Driving Cars – Driverless Cars.
    • Digital marketing WILL evolve with the automotive industry. If there’s one thing marketers live by, it’s “adapt, survive, overcome”…

inside an autonomous vehicle

  • When?
    • These cars have been in the concept phase for YEARS. It’s a matter of time before they start rolling up our driveways – be sure to hide your cat.
    • Many of the digital marketing technologies already exist. If you are across the latest and greatest digital trends, you will be ready to hit the ground running on automation ‘D-Day’

joke automated mars vehicle

  • Where?
    • Developed (1st world) countries will be the first to adopt the autonomous vehicle phenomenon at a large scale. The rollout will be impacted by bureaucratic speed bumps, but is inevitable nonetheless.

partially blue globe

    • We’re talking digital – this will apply everywhere.

blue globe


  • Why?
    • Time is valuable. Driverless cars will gift users additional time to spend every day – the safety benefits are pretty attractive too.iwatch
    • The acquisition of time for drivers-turned-passengers will be spent somewhere. When you’re in the car, on the road, mobile engagement will dominate.

People being anti-social on the couch using their phones

  • How?
    • Evolution. We as humans constantly seek technological advancements that enable a better standard of living. With heavy hitters including Google, Tesla and Volvo on the scene, the new age ‘Space-Race’ is sure to reveal a 3 tiered podium in due course.
    • Learn, adopt, apply and adapt. A portion of the digital marketing practices that will apply to self-driving cars already exist. The best course of action is to: learn current and trending marketing practices; be across developing marketing technologies; be agile when applying these practices; be adaptable – make your strategy adaptable – things will change.

human evolution line

There’s no doubt that the commercial availability of autonomous vehicles will offer a significant upward trend in the automotive industry, both in production and technological application. But how will this impact on our marketing efforts, and will it be a positive or negative change?

From what research tells us across various sources is that there will be an unprecedented opportunity for digital marketers and online marketing agencies to innovate using new and to-be-established digital marketing techniques/practices. The full scope of these techniques will emerge in time, though some early insight includes the current ‘Top 10 Digital Marketing Trends”.