Media Zone May: Consider Effects Along With Potential Profit

Media Zone
Peter Feinstein

I love the way my car handles. It’s tight, easy to steer, takes me from zero to 60 mph in under seven seconds, and stops me better than any car I’ve ever owned. It instills total confidence.

It’s my private sanctuary, my escape from the ubiquitous shriek of our digital-media world. But that’s only because I deliberately choose not to use 99 percent of the connected gadgetry built into the vehicle. It’s my car for goodness sake — what possible reason could there be for it needing to be connected to stuff?

Okay, stop judging me, or thinking me some kind of dolt. I’m fully aware that cars have been connected and interconnected to some degree since 1996, when General Motors Co. shoved its OnStar service into select Cadillacs. Yep, it’s been 22 years. Do you have any idea what’s coming within the next two?

Advertising, obviously, and more. Way more.

But, to return to advertising for a moment, don’t confuse this with what mobile apps such as Waze can do with location-based advertising. That’s not your car; that’s your phone in your car. Even if you load Waze into your car’s system, it’s still not your car, per se. (Wait, you didn’t know you could load apps into your car? I’ll let that be a cliffhanger for my next column, perhaps.)

Back to the topic at hand: in-car advertising, delivered by your car’s connection to the internet. The capability is already in your car. It merely needs to be activated by the manufacturer. That’s coming. In all likelihood, you won’t be able to avoid it, at least not all of it, if you want to use much of the technology in your vehicle, such as navigation, interactive maps, passenger video entertainment, whatever audio feed you’ve selected for your driver-only pleasure — or even essential stuff like your speedometer or gas gauge. Yes, really. Car manufacturers are pondering how best to force the issue, so they can mine and monetize our data to profit further from our purchase of their deeply connected rolling boxes.

More Than Profit

But I wonder if, in these monetization plans, there is any consideration to our privacy, our safety, and perhaps even our sanity. (Yeah, I know, I can get a bit melodramatic. I’ll try to tone it down. A little.) As I observe it, we’re deep into a business cycle that seems to eschew some of the basic principles of stewardship.

Many businesses exist to make money. I consider that a goal — an outcome — but not a purpose. Purpose, for me, is fulfilling some need in the marketplace without causing harm. My capacity to deliver value while satisfying a need entitles me to earn a profit from that activity. But when we’re only in it for the money, our foundation is as weak as sand on a beach.

Each advancement of the Internet of Things (IoT) seems to carry the money-first reasoning that if we can penetrate someplace with Wi-Fi, we should.

That reasoning is flawed. Change the “that if” to “what if,” as in: “What if we do this, what will be the consequences?” At least then we’d begin looking at things relative to how humans will react to them. Right now, there appears to be no real consideration, except to how friendly the user interface can be made so that it integrates into the driving experience.

Really? How about this? The driving experience is: I’m behind the wheel of a 3,000-pound guided missile, commanding a weapon of devastating personal power, and virtually guaranteed to be more distracted than ever before.

Time Running Out

You know the future is already here, right? Don’t be misled into thinking that we’re still years away from the exchange of data to/from our vehicles. While it’s still in its infancy, it could careen into an unwieldy adolescence in less than two years. Without some common-sense thinking, we’re likely to experience a parade of unforeseen consequences that will amaze, mystify, and possibly scare the living you-know-what out of many of us. Just to make a buck.

I’m ever hopeful that we’re willing to take a breath —just a breath — and contemplate what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and why. I know we’re all about generating a direct response for our clients. I’ve been doing that for decades. I just want us to pump the brakes and ask ourselves how far we think we need to go to accomplish our goals? I’m always open to feedback!