Branding, Marketing, and the Impact of Self-Driving Cars

Paul M. Gelb
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Key Takeaways

​What? Self-driving vehicles could hit the road by 2020.

So what? The advent of self-driving cars will likely have as much of an impact on retail marketing as the internet has had.

Now what? Research self-driving marketing opportunities now as the technology gains in the marketplace.​ ​

Nov. 30, 2017

Self-driving cars are around the corner and the lawmakers are getting ready. 

On Sep. 6, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “SELF DRIVE Act,” which stands for the “Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution Act”. The Act focuses on data privacy and cybersecurity for autonomous vehicles. And on Sep. 28, 2017, the U.S. Senate introduced a similar bill adding to the cybersecurity requirements and addressing other concerns raised by state regulators and motor safety advocates. In negotiating this bill, the Senate has announced a potential bipartisan deal to clear the way for self-driving cars to soon be available to consumers. 

Self-driving vehicles could hit the road by 2020. The advent of self-driving cars will likely have as much of an impact on retail marketing as the internet has had. Below are three areas where the most significant changes to retail marketing could occur as a result of automated ground vehicles.

Cars as Advertising Platforms

Historically, the first connection between cars and advertising were the billboards that prominently stood out as people were driving down highways and main urban thoroughfares.  Later came the advertisements on subways and buses during people’s daily commute. Now, the spread of driverless cars will bring a new advertising platform where people whose attention is no longer needed for driving will start engaging in a range of other activities as they ride. The way things are headed, much of this will be online activity. 

Advertisers will want to market to individuals in their cars. Since self-driving cars will be computerized, it will be logistically simple for brands to advertise directly to cars as people should increasingly make purchases from their vehicles on the way to work or some other destination. 

In fact, the computer directing the self-driving car will know the destination of the driver, and brands potentially will use that information to market. Also, the driverless cars will be smart vehicles that know the preferences of their occupants, from air conditioning to music stations.  All of this will raise regulatory issues regarding privacy and access to information that will have to be legally resolved. Depending on the nature of the advertising, it also could implicate the mobile advertising prohibitions that have been passed in certain cities. 

Autonomous Vehicles for Deliveries

Self-driving cars also will be used increasingly as taxis and delivery vehicles. There is discussion about what form this will take. It could be that the autonomous vehicles will follow a route throughout a neighborhood with a selection of products and that it will deliver the product to the doorstep when it is ordered. As a result, optimization of logistics will be important.

In this sense, driverless cars could transform retail. Companies could end up storing their products in autonomous vehicles and delivering them on demand to consumers. This could even occur with some regularity as household items are delivered automatically by robotic cars on a weekly or monthly basis.

Marketing the Self-Driving Cars   

The most interesting intersection between sales and driverless vehicles could be how self-driving cars will be sold to consumers. People like to drive their cars. That is one reason that no matter how much public transportation advances, it has not replaced private ownership of cars. Questions abound whether the spread of self-driving cars will cause regulators to attempt to ban non-self-driving cars in big cities, and how people will react.       

It is also unclear how state laws and federal laws regarding the marketing of these autonomous vehicles will intersect. Currently, federal and state regulations govern dealer advertising of cars.  Many of the federal disclosure requirements are summarized in the National Automobile Dealers Association guide. These requirements cover representations concerning almost every aspect of the automobile. With the advent of self-driving cars, these disclosure requirements could become even more arduous, and these new standards have yet to be clearly defined.   

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Author Bio:
Paul M. Gelb
Paul M. Gelb provides legal counsel to mid-market companies in all aspects of their businesses including advertising, marketing and promotions, privacy, technology transactions and e-commerce. Mr. Gelb is Counsel with Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and can be reached at 310-203-4028 or
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Jason Ciment
December 4, 2017

How do you see driverless cars impacting law practices? Especially personal injury cases?

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