Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Information Superhighway?

Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Information Superhighway?

Article excerpt

Car-based social networking could improve efficient driving and revolutionise motor marketing.

Cars have never been simply about getting from A to B. On a rational level, they don't really stack up.

They're expensive to run, spending much of their time idle, and most people would be better off getting cabs, or using a car club. Justified by the occasions when alternative modes of transport would be inconvenient, a car works out as an expensive indulgence.

Yet, our relationship with cars is more complex than that. If reliability and economy were vital, you'd never see an Alfa Romeo on the street.

Levi's knows this; after years of talking about the practical benefits of its jeans, putting Nick Kamen in them (or more to the point, getting him out of them) did far more for sales. It turned out that what people wanted to know from jeans advertising was simple: were they going to get laid in them?

However cars are isolation booths - execuboxes for the nose-pickerati to crawl along the A40 in the rush hour. Could they really be the basis for a new wave in social networking?

The Ace Cafe London on the North Circular Road has been hosting meetups for car enthusiasts since 1998; not just exotics and hotrods, but Hyundai and Mazda nights, too. For them, cars are a social lubricant, but events like this are limited to an obsessed minority.

However, Fiat in the UK and Ford in the US have just launched something that could make driving your car a social experience, and at the same time address a fundamental marketing challenge in the auto business.

Both manufacturers have worked with Microsoft, to create Ford's Syncmyride and Fiat's Blue & me systems.

Blue & me allows you to download data on your driving via a USB socket in the car. When you upload this onto your computer, it displays an analysis of your driving techniques and gives you an eco-score. It then offers tips on how to make your journeys more fuel efficient and tracks your performance over time so you can see how it improves.

The Fiat system also links you into a community, Ecoville, that shows how much CO2 its members around the world have collectively saved. It's only a beta site, but it has the potential to become the Nike+ of the motoring world.

As a tool of behavioural economics, it could create social pressure between people to drive more economically. Research by the University of California showed that homeowners who got feedback that their energy use was higher than their neighbours' responded by reducing consumption. …

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