Future of Mobile Beacons: My Car Just Sold Me a Pair of Jeans

Post by Josh Roland, VP, Group Director

A picture creates an impulse, and in less than 30 minutes you went from driving through town with no particular destination to making an in-store purchase of this season’s newest jeans- at a killer price.

So what happened? Obviously it was a text from a friend letting you know about the sale…right?  Nope. So it was a billboard… that guy juggling bowling pins in a dinosaur costume… or a window-front signage that you saw from the street?  Not even close.

The future is here. This ad was custom targeted to you and delivered through your car. That’s right. In a fraction of a second, while driving through town, your car was smart enough to say: “I know you, I know where we are, I know you love this store, and I know you love these jeans. Let me take a quick look and see if I can find a deal on some jeans for you. YES…here it is!”  Creepy?  Maybe. Seem impossibly futuristic?  Then you may be unaware that this is the year of the mobile beacon.

Advertisers have truckloads of information about consumers, and they are working tirelessly to develop new, innovative ways to use data and create hyper-targeted ad experiences. Mobile beacons are a relatively new concept, but advertisers have been toying with the technology for a few years now because they want to (1) understand in-store shopping behavior, and (2) make the connection between online device usage and offline purchasing.

It works like this: Retailers install a small piece of hardware in their store that can pass messages to your smartphone via a low energy signal known as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).  Frequently, these messages are advertisements meant to enhance one’s shopping experience.  When you interact with the message, you’re interacting with the brand.

Right now there are a handful of automobile manufactures loading their vehicles with on-board WiFi.  By May of 2018, all vehicles will have a rear-view visibility system. It’s only a matter of time before the connection—once seeming impossibly futuristic—becomes an everyday reality.  Your car will recognize you from your smartphone, use advanced beacon technology to recognize your location, draw on the on-board WiFi, and serve an image ad on your 7” LCD for a fire sale on those jeans.  Soon, the term “mobile mico-sale” will be coined.

Here’s another thought- what if radio ads could also be programmatically targeted to the consumer in the car, identified via their smartphone and broadcasted in real-time based on proximity to a brick and mortar location?

The industry would be changed forever.

Now I understand there are many hurdles to this story, specifically the range and power of the current beacon technology.  By definition, the BLE transmission source is low energy and as a result is relatively small in diameter.  The kinks are still being worked out of in-car WiFi, and we can be sure there will be numerous arguments about yet another distraction for a driver.  However it’s not to say this story can’t have a spectacular ending.  Besides, it was once impossibly futuristic for a car to tell us how to get to our destination, or park for us, right?

In the time it takes for you to sit here and read this (including the time necessary to stop and ponder the thought of your car talking to you), you probably were exposed to at least 1 programmatically targeted advertisement that was sent to you because you were designated as “in-market.” Emerging technology is an exciting opportunity for advertisers to target the right customer, at the right moment, at any time- not just online.

Technology is making it possible to connect in-store sales with online behavior.  Whether you think it’s possible or not, we should all be wondering what our cars might say next!

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