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January 18, 2017

If driverless cars are the future (as they seem all but certain to be), OOH advertising could soon undergo a total transformation.

Freed from the burden of paying attention to the road, drivers and passengers will become a captive audience for mobile and out-of-home advertising. Out goes the steering wheel and dashboard, in comes a screen—and with it, a new way for brands to get their message out.

Indeed, driverless cars could spur an OOH renaissance, amplifying an evolution that is already under way thanks to mobile technology and location data. Driverless cars could hasten the proliferation of smart, geofenced billboards that can tailor messages down to the individual level. Meanwhile, other smart devices—from smartphones to Internet-connected appliances—could become an integrated component of OOH messaging.

Bespoke Billboards
Hitting the right consumer, at the right moment, with the right message is a persistent marketing challenge. A digital, geofenced billboard has the potential to solve all three problems by serving up personalized content made relevant in space and time because of the consumer's physical location. For example, if my mobile phone knows I last searched for "best dog food," it could trigger a personalized, puppy-laden billboard the next time I drive by a pet store.
The burgeoning Internet of Things movement could take this a step further. An Internet-connected wine refrigerator could let my phone and driverless vehicle know when I'm out of my favorite Merlot. If I drive (or rather, ride) near a wine shop, a digital billboard might remind me that it's time to buy a bottle, and trigger a coupon on my mobile device.
In a world of driverless cars, these ads might become flashier and more interactive. If advertisers don't have to worry about distracting drivers, they have more options when it comes to creative.

Second Screen Advertising
Changes in OOH advertising will go hand in hand with marketing on second screens, whether via mobile devices or in-car screens. On the road, a user might see a customized digital billboard and then glance at their phone or dashboard screen and notice the exact same ad.

Case studies have shown that combining OOH with mobile enhances ad effectiveness. Rather than competing, OOH billboards and smaller screens serve to complement and enhance each other, yielding better results. Jake Rector, partner and media strategist for Tilted Chair Creative, notes that mobile ad engagement for Torchy's Tacos in Waco, Texas, skyrocketed after billboards were added to the mix. "Once billboards were introduced to the campaign, Waze's click-through rate nearly doubled," Rector tells The Drum. "This means that because drivers were more aware of the brand via the billboards, they were more likely to click on the Waze ad."

In addition to mobile devices, in-car screens will almost certainly become more prominent and interactive once driverless cars gain popularity. While in-car entertainment will be a boon for Netflix-addicted commuters, another screen also provides opportunities for marketers to work in tandem with OOH. For example, a driverless car could notify passengers when gas is getting low on the in-car screen and serve up information about nearby gas stations; a digital billboard could reinforce the message with additional offers.

Cars as Ads
The driverless car phenomenon could also rejigger another form of OOH advertising: other vehicles. While the idea of ads on wheels isn't novel (look no further than the Red Bull car for proof), the tactic could go into overdrive if marketers perceive an opportunity. Driverless vehicles could serve as roving coupon books; energy-efficient "spam cars" could serve no other purpose than roaming the streets with ever-changing messaging.

In a more interesting scenario, cars could also become literal vehicles for branded experiences, as Jesse Basham of Lightning Jar suggests. Theme cars could accompany big movie rollouts, with riders getting to see sneak previews or play an interactive video game in the car.
For consumers, however, the best applications of OOH advertising in a driverless world will aim to add value versus simply interrupt. In concert with mobile, OOH has the potential to create new experiences that leave an impression. If driverless cars go mainstream—and all signs seem to point to that happening relatively soon—it's a rich opportunity for advertisers and brands.

≥≥ Need a Shortcut?
  1. Driverless cars will give marketers new opportunities to reach previously occupied consumers with OOH and mobile ads.
  2. Data from cars and mobile devices could make OOH ads more personalized and relevant.
  3. OOH billboard advertising can complement mobile ads by increasing their effectiveness.

Krystal Overmyer is a freelance journalist specializing in digital marketing trends. Her experience spans nearly 10 years in journalism, public relations and digital communications. 
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