GM has taken the first, halting steps toward an inevitable future of advertisements and coupons being beamed into our cars. A new program called AtYourService will integrate coupons into GM’s OnStar service, and big-name brands such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Priceline, and RetailMeNot are already on board. Because of a U.S. government requirement that all new cars by 2018 have mandatory rear-view cameras, touch screens are being deployed in millions of new cars–and automakers like GM, Ford, Toyota and others want to make sure they’re at the forefront of putting advertisements in cars instead of companies like Google, Garmin, or Yelp.
To be sure, the existing ads in the AtYourService program are primitive and the project seems more like an ambivalent pilot than a full-fledged rollout. But its implications are undeniable. Provided they opted in ahead of time, customers who call in to the OnStar service to request destinations to a location are then emailed coupon codes from partners such as Dunkin’ Donuts related to the destination. Priceline is going one step further and allowing OnStar customers to make reservations through GM’s operators. Unlike traditional radio advertisements, email integration via OnStar lets Dunkin’ Donuts and others target individual drivers.
According to OnStar’s Mark Lloyd, almost 35 million calls are made to the service annually for turn-by-turn directions. He added that targeting OnStar customers headed to specific destinations with advertisements made sense for the service–after specific homes, retail stores and restaurants or hotels are the second and third most requested categories of destinations. He added that “If we have a coupon for that destination, our advisor will push that coupon out to the customer as a sort of value-add.”
The value-add all has to do with 4G, and automakers’ desire to keep Silicon Valley interlopers like Google and Apple from dominating the in-car experience. GM introduced 4G capability in their cars last year, as did several other carmakers. In-car 4G is based around exclusive partnerships with providers such as Verizon or AT&T; automakers like Toyota or GM require customers to get their in-car 4G through one of these providers, with the automaker taking a cut. It’s both a reliable revenue stream for the auto companies and a selling point for customers, who can get Netflix for their kids in the back seat or play music on Spotify or Pandora. Based on question and answer sessions witnessed by this reporter at auto shows, car manufacturers tend to look warily upstarts such as Google’s Waze or Yelp making their way directly into connected cars. Instead, middlemen such as AT&T and Verizon are largely preferred.
Neither Lloyd nor Phil Abram, GM’s chief consumer tech honcho, would confirm or deny that the auto giant is working on any advertising projects more closely tethered to 4G or its successors. But Lloyd noted that “in-car advertising has been around since the 1920s–only back then, it was called radio.” If GM ever unveils visual advertising on car dashboards or touch screens, they say, it would have to adhere to mandatory distracted driver guidelines while also offering content that’s relevant and contextually aware of being inside a car.