At first bite, it seems no more than a clever way to boost sales at the expense of a competitor. When a hungry customer walks into a McDonald’s (or within 600 feet of one), they can use the Burger King app to order a Whopper for a penny. The app will then provide directions to the nearest BK, where the now famished customer can pick it up. The promotion, good until December 12, is called the Whopper Detour.
Is it trollish? Sure. Has it worked? Apparently. Burger King’s marketing chief told CNN Business that more than 50,000 people have cashed in on the deal, and the fast food giant’s app jumped to first place in the iTunes App Store’s Food and Drink category.
Let that first bite move down your gullet and digest a bit, though, and you get the feeling this deal is a harbinger of things to come. Today you are steering yourself through the drive-through for a one-center. Jump forward a few years, though, to the day when computers take the wheel: Suddenly this sort of campaign becomes less gimmicky and much more pervasive.
Instead of piloting your own car to a McDonald’s, opening the Burger King app, then following directions to reclaim your discounted beef patty, imagine this: You get a hankering for fast food, call up a robocar, and enter McDonald’s as your destination. You didn’t want to pay for the premium service, so you’ve accepted a cheaper ride on the condition that the car will blast you with ads. Burger King has paid extra to reach McDonald’s-bound riders. So as the car gets going, you get this message on one of the many interior screens: Special offer! Head to Burger King right now and get a free order of Cheesy Tots™ with your order of any burger! Touch here to accept a rerouting. This will add three minutes to your trip time. You hit the button and the car takes you to the Land of Whoppers.
The WIRED Guide to Self-Driving Cars
In this new transportation universe, the ads that have long been relegated to billboards move into the car. “If you no longer have to worry about driving the car, the space that you’re in becomes usable for all types of media engagement,” says Jeff Berman, a general partner at the tech- and real-estate-focused VC firm Camber Creek.
You don’t even have to crack the devilish problem of autonomy to make this happen—it’s easy enough to imagine the above scenario with a hired Uber or Lyft driver. Heck, forget ride-hailing. A company called Telenav this summer launched an in-car advertising platform, which it’s pitching to automakers. Using the car’s infotainment screen, the system delivers ads based on the car’s location and status. Running low on gas? Fill up at the nearest Shell and get a free hot dog. Then swing by this CVS for a discounted bottle of Pepto-Bismol.
The rise of driver-monitoring systems like eye-tracking cameras and biometric sensors in seats could make for targeted ads too. Tired? Let the navi send to you a Starbucks with one push of a button. Anxious? Get a massage on the way home. The connected car—whether you own it or just order it for the occasional ride—takes things further. Your calendar says it’s your anniversary, and the local liquor store wants to give you two bottles of champagne for the price of one.
Yes, the advent of self-driving technology could save tens of thousands of lives. It might even make traffic better (or possibly much, much worse). But for the investors pouring cash into the space, the opportunity to reach people whose eyeballs are suddenly freed from the road ahead, wherever they are and wherever they’re going, is what gets the salivary glands going.
Is it kinda creepy? Sure. Will it be successful? Probably. Who can say no to a one-cent burger?
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