“If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

Thursday, May 29, 2008

In-Car Advertising

How would you feel about advertisements in your car? Pretty irritating, right? That’s also what I thought when I first heard about the concept. I’ve tried so hard to keep my name off telemarketers’ lists. I even called up the Do Not Call (DNC) ministry (if that’s indeed what it’s called) and had my name placed on the DNC list. I change channels whenever a commercial is on. And besides what use is 250 channels if I don’t browse all of them during a commercial break, right? I hate advertisements. But I had a change of heart about in-car advertising when I heard the upsides to it.

Here’s the deal. Automakers pack a lot of stuff into our cars, some of which are General Motors’ OnStar and Ford’s SYNC system. But then again are we amenable to paying a monthly fee for them? With the rising cost of gasoline, I highly doubt it. But now because of in-car advertisements, which are already rumored to be in the offing, we no longer have to pay a monthly fee, or we’ll have to pay just a smaller amount. Why? It’s because companies will sponsor these technologies so they will be given rights to broadcast their products while you are on the go. That does not sound bad, right?

Detroit Free Press reports that, “Getting people to pay for a monthly subscription -- General Motors Corp.'s OnStar starts at $18.95 a month -- or even a flat fee -- Ford Motor Co.'s Sync costs $395 -- is a hurdle that can be lowered by allowing advertisers to sponsor services or parts of the technology. That could mean drivers can download online movies for the kids in the minivan courtesy of Netflix, book oil-change appointments courtesy of Pennzoil, or handle that outstanding recall on their air bags courtesy of the Detroit Medical Center. "It's something that can speed up" the digital revolution in the car, explained Antonino Damiano, product line manager for Magneti Marelli, an Italian company with local offices in Farmington Hills and Troy. That firm has taken on a leadership role in this global revolution. "Ad-supported is the way this can go mass-market," explained Steve Koenig, director of industry analysis for the Consumer Electronics Association in Arlington, Va. In the next few years, for example, Kolde says most new vehicles could have navigation systems that are almost entirely supported through advertising listings tied to the map. Advertisers would pay for premier placement in the map listings that come up when a driver is searching for a nearby coffee shop or a pharmacy.

But just like all things, this also has its disadvantages. Advertisers can keep tabs on where you’ve been, where you’re going and what you’re about to do. Paul Stephens, a spokesman for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego, related to the Free Press that, "We're being tracked in more ways than you can imagine," he said. "There are some people that are going to be extremely sensitive to this sort of tracking. There are others that will find it desirable, especially if there's some sort of inducement." But then again, "If it's managed right, it's a big opportunity," he said.

It’s a thinker, actually. I haven’t yet made up my mind about it. It’s great to have discounts on in-car technologies and to be informed where the next gasoline station or fastfood is, but do I really want that kind of invasion of privacy in my car? I’m sensitive when it comes to my home phone ringing all the time because companies want me to change telephone, satellite and internet services. But this is something. A little assurance from the automakers and advertisers won’t hurt.