The march towards an automated world throws up so much uncertainty on the future of employment, industry and the way that we live our lives. However in the motor industry – where advancements have been made at a quicker speed than many other sectors – profound implications have already emerged about what it means for consumers and brands.
Automotive brands have spent decades (and fortunes) building an emotional and physical connection between us and our cars. It’s a relationship that goes way beyond getting from A-to- B.
Car advertising quickly became some of the most evocative and emotive communications of any category, because the experience of driving a car stimulates our senses unlike any other category.
The power, speed, thrill, control, and the roar of the engine for which we take control when we get behind the wheel all get the adrenaline pumping and the hairs on the back of our necks standing up. Car marketing has always played on the ability to make us ‘dream’, and this emotional connection helps offset the fact that buying a car is the biggest depreciating purchase most of us will ever make.
Practicality and responsibility have become more relevant (possibly thanks to regulation) but it’s this primordial connection we have with cars that made us fall in love with them a hundred years ago and keep us buying them in their millions to this day.
But what happens to this relationship when cars become driverless? Sure it’ll take a while before we let go of our steering wheels completely I would take a punt on my four-year- old daughter (and my soon-to- be-born baby) never having to take driving exams.
So, let’s for a moment imagine a driverless world. It’ll certainly be a safer world - 5 people die and 59 are seriously injured on UK roads alone every day. As a result, insurance premiums will drop, as will some of the pressure on the emergency services and the NHS. There won’t be any congestion, as the flow of traffic will become as automated as the vehicles themselves. Emissions will fall as driving efficiencies increase, and those prone to road rage will have to find other cathartic techniques to vent. This is all great news but it will fundamentally change our relationship with our cars forever, and car brands will have to adapt.
Ironically, our relationship with the cars of the future will be closer to the vehicles of the past. The horse-drawn carriage was the transport of choice for hundreds of years before the combustion engine came along. Passengers sat in the back, watched the world go by, talked business, played games and fornicated behind drawn curtains while the driver took care of the A to B. It didn’t matter to them how the vehicle felt to drive and they didn’t care about the ‘brand’. It was all about getting somewhere more quickly and safely than by walking, and in relative comfort.
So, how do brands that have spent decades building the ultimate driving machines market the horse-drawn carriages of the future? Comfort, style, entertainment, connectivity, reliability, space and trust will replace the physical thrill of driving a car. But how brands make us feel and what they stand for will still be key. A manufacturer such as Honda should be able to make the jump in communications quite easily. The Power of Dreams is so much bigger than simply driving a car. It’s about human progression and the ambition to make things better.
But car manufacturers will also face other challenges. When we combine Uber-style on-demand, location-based services with driverless technology, will it make sense to own a car at all? Consumers are increasingly looking for alternative ownership models and this trend will only gain momentum. As a result, many automotive brands – including non-manufacturers such as Hertz and Uber - are developing and testing on-demand and subscription-based services. Why should you commit to one brand or model when you can simply order the vehicle you need, when you need it, without the cost of insuring and maintaining it?
Family trip to Cornwall? I’ll order a LEC - Luxury Entertainment Cruiser. Probably the new Apple iRide 3 – with the latest cinematic and gaming retinal projection features - without the need for clunky VR headsets. Daily school run? I’ve subscribed to Google Go – the best rideshare scheme around. I love the fact it turns up at exactly the same time every day and I can choose who my kids ride with – and monitor them on the way.
Every journey will be tailored to the passengers’ exact needs and every automotive brand on the planet will have to adapt to cater for this seismic shift in behaviour. The challenge for marketers will be to build brands based on non- driving behaviour, grow brand loyalty without ownership, drive subscriptions and repeat usage and demonstrate relevance against new players coming to market. Many It’s the perfect example of technology driving behavioural and cultural change and the total disruption of an entire industry. It certainly won’t be the only one.
On a final personal note, as much as I love putting the pedal to the metal, I’m looking forward to a safer, driverless future.