Thinking back to your childhood, I’m sure many of you have that memory of a TV show or film where autonomous driving (or something similar) sticks in your mind.

For me, it’s James Bond’s BMW in Tomorrow Never Dies. He was given his new car and drove it around the aircraft hangar using nothing more than a remote control on his pre-smartphone smartphone. Since then, that scene has always been how I imagined the future of cars was going to be.

Disappointingly though, James Bond has lied to me. The cars I drive today still require me to be in full control, but not so long ago, in an Uber of all things, I got my first experience of autonomous driving thanks to the Tesla Model S (still not sure how I managed to get a Tesla for my Uber, but I’m not complaining). 

While the Tesla wasn’t fully autonomous, the driver turning around to chat to me in the back while changing lanes, on a corner, in a tunnel, with no hands on the wheel, gave me a good first view of what the future really looks like. And although he probably shouldn’t have done that, this did get me thinking about what the opportunity for an innovation like this is for non-automotive brands.

If the driver can turn around to chat to me in this situation, surely this is a game changer not just in the automotive sense, but also in the product and entertainment sense.

Bear with me. Here’s what I mean: 

Look around your home. The builder or developer has most likely made a good amount of money building your property, but not everything you own inside it is made or sold by the architects or builders, is it? No, the home is just the context and surroundings for all those belongings – an opportunity that hundreds or thousands of brands use to make money from you.

The autonomous car is no different. I’m sure this has sprung to mind for some people, but I think we’re still a few steps away from it being the first thing most of us associate with them.

But let’s think about it. You’ve finished work and are driving home. With the non-autonomous car, you might be singing along to your iPhone or shouting at the radio news, but your attention is mostly focused on the road and the people and vehicles around you …as it should be.

Now take away the driving aspect. As a passenger, are you watching the road the whole time? Probably not – there’s likely something else taking up most of your attention, be it your phone, a book, or the scenery as it passes by.

When you’re in a self-driving car, do you think you’ll still sit there and watch the road? Ok, maybe to start with you will, just until you become comfortable with the car keeping you safe. But that comfort and confidence in the car being able to get you to your destination safely will slowly feed through, and then what? How will you pass the time then? 

If you’ve got an hour-long commute home, you might want to sit and listen to the radio for the duration, or, with flexible working, you might feel like finishing off that presentation for your boss tomorrow, or you might find yourself leading a video conference via your 5G laptop.

What if you’re heading home to watch the latest Game of Thrones episode but don’t want to go on social media in case of spoilers? Rather than waiting to watch it on demand when you get home, you could hop into your car/vehicular living room, turn on the Foxtel box connected to your mid-screen Philips TV, get yourself some popcorn, and sit back, relax (if that’s possible with GoT) and see whose number comes up next. 

That long drive up the coast with the kids to see the family has always been a tough one too. The kids never sleep quite as well in the car as they do at home, so let’s get them a bed for the car. Think how much better they’d sleep (and how much better you could too) with a comfortable lie-flat Sleepmaker mattress.

Or that six-hour road trip with friends to the Snowy Mountains for skiing in winter. It’s no walk in the park, especially if you’re the one driving. But what if you and your mates could sit back, chuck on a film, or continue that FIFA tournament you’re all sure you’re going to win, and make the most of the time you have to enjoy yourselves? And if you wanted to have a drink or two along the way, you could just reach over to that fridge in the corner. 

Obviously with all of this there are limitations. There’d be a limit to what you could fit into the car as an accessory given the size of the component, and there would surely be laws that would need to be changed. 

But the world today is changing at an astounding pace, and every new product or invention brings with it a whole host of new opportunities for brands, especially in places they may well have overlooked in the past. 79 million new cars were sold worldwide in 2018, and with the way the population is growing, this number will most likely rise. That’s one big opportunity.

Who among us wouldn’t be looking into buying an autonomous car if it could do the whole journey to work safely? Who would really want to keep having to stare at the bumper of the car in front for hours on end, if they didn’t have to? I’d hazard a guess that it’s most of us.

So for brands, the time is now. Start thinking today about how you or your products could be a game changer in this space. 

The attention economy has shown that there are more players pining for people’s eyes than ever before, so be that top-of-mind brand/product that everyone wants for their car, and own their space before someone else does. 

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Tom White

Tom is the General Manager of iProspect Sydney, and leads his team's efforts and delivery across Paid Media, Owned Media and Data & Analytics, ensuring we remain at the forefront of the industry and deliver excellence in everything that iProspect does for its clients.