The Road Ahead: Lessons from the Auto Industry on Selling a Better Future

Advertising has always been about empathy, about trying to connect or resonate with the needs of a specific person. Looking back on the past 75 years of advertising shows its ebb and flow, with a new era emerging every 10-15 years or so. But despite the cultural, technological and economic differences of each era, the promise of a better future has always included one common visual – flying cars.

Flying cars! Is there anything that says “future” more than flying cars? The Jetsons, Back to the Future, Blade Runner – the future of transportation is a conversation wrapped in the future of our society and planet. But while the internet has been the major cultural shift of the past century, by comparison, the automotive industry has largely just been tweaked over the last hundred years, with added features and amenities.

Until now.

Now we’re talking about tectonic shifts – forget the new speakers, we’re going to give your car arms, or a brain, or we’re going to get rid of it altogether! The 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) showed us our automotive future, including things like:

Predictive Safety Features

Toyota’s latest self-driving car prototype contains technology called “Guardian 4.0” that assists drivers when an accident might “feel” imminent, by automatically correcting a drivers over-steering or braking.

Augmented/Virtual Reality-Equipped Vehicles

Nissan unveiled its “invisible-to-visible” technology (or I2V) that merges the real world with the data world and “helps” you when you’re driving or looking for a parking spot in a crowded lot (with superimposed arrows that point to available spaces). Audi also collaborated with Disney on a project called Holoride, a VR experience for passengers that brings games and movies along for the ride.

And Yes…Flying (And Climbing!) Cars

The black five-seater Nexus, a hybrid-electric air taxi, has vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) ability and can carry up to 600 pounds. Bell Helicopters partnered with Uber on the Nexus and claim they will have flying taxis in cities by “the mid-2020s”. Not to be outdone, Hyundai introduced Elevate, a vehicle that doesn’t just drive, but also “walks, jumps and climbs” when needed. Four articulated arms allow the Elevate to scale gaps in the road, or even “stand up” and “walk” out of a snow drift if it gets stuck.


So as we head into the 2019 Philadelphia Auto Show on February 2, here are three important takeaways from all of this new automotive technology:

1. Autonomous Driving will Change Everything

When you picture self-driving cars, most envision current cars – a steering wheel, two seats in front, three in the back. But those confines will no longer be necessary, and as the car environment changes, myriad industries change with it. Notably for advertisers, the new auto interior might now be a meeting place, a sleeping place, an eating place – all requiring a shift from the tried-and-true car commercials that agencies have pumped out for decades. Which brings us to point number two…

2. Advertising Needs to Evolve with the Auto Industry

How do you advertise a flying car? The big challenge for marketers will be evolving traditional advertising vehicles (for lack of a better word) to sell non-traditional products/services. If we’re touting augmented/virtual reality with a standard ad or billboard, will it truly do it justice? Brands are getting way more sophisticated with their products, and marketers must keep pace with our ability to promote them. Which brings us to point number three…

3. Marketers Must Educate the Public as Much as We Are Selling to Them

As technology becomes increasingly complex, marketers will have an increased responsibility to contextualize the advancements and link them to bigger issues like global warming, population density, jobs, etc. We’re not selling features anymore; we’re responsible for explaining a different way of life. This is going to require a new breed of marketer, one with a higher IQ and EQ who is able to look beyond the shiny newness of a thing to help consumers get comfortable with abandoning a routine they might have had their entire lives. Which brings us back to the beginning point…

Empathy. Advertising has always been about empathy, about trying to connect or resonate with the needs of a specific person. So as those needs disappear with the increased convenience of the future, what other needs will take their place? Let’s not be so distracted by the flying cars that we forget about the people inside.

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