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Auto Brands Connect With Drivers at CES

The 2012 International CES (Consumer Electronics Show) [1] was held in Las Vegas last month and among the hot button topics was increased driver connectivity by auto manufacturers and tech suppliers. Linking consumer electronics and cars through mobile apps and in-car navigations systems can turn a boring or frustrating commute into an enjoyable one. That’s all well and good for everyday drivers, but does this directly affect search and advertising marketers?

Let’s start from the beginning. Mobile search is growing by the minute, becoming far more competitive than desktop search since only the highest two spots for ads on a page are usually shown. According to Nielsen, 44% of Americans own a smartphone and many don’t let them out of their site in the car. There are more opportunities to advertise, customize and optimize than ever before. Car manufacturers like Ford and Mercedes are capitalizing on it through connectivity.

Ford teamed up with leading traffic information provider INRIX, announcing a new version of its SYNC Destinations app at CES. If you aren’t aware, SYNC is a voice-interactive system that controls various vehicle, phone and music device functions through easy audible commands or buttons on the steering wheel. The updated free SYNC Destinations app can send turn-by-turn directions by connecting to the vehicle’s in-car navigation system and is currently available on Apple iOS, with Google Android and Blackberry updates coming during the first quarter of 2012.

Additionally, SYNC AppLink allows drivers to control the SYNC Destinations app through voice commands such as adding new destinations to your route, getting the local traffic report, etc. Just like GM’s in-car-app systems (Chevrolet MyLink and Cadillac CUE), AppLink must be connected to a smartphone with the app installed and must access data through the phone.

Other brands like National Public Radio are getting in on the act by using SYNC’s API. NPR adapted its mobile app so drivers can browse NPR’s various stations, newscasts and programs using basic voice controls. According to Motor Trend [2], users can listen to news on their own schedule by building playlists of specific topics like sports, science, money, etc. and set favorites among the hundreds of NPR member stations around the country.

Mercedes-Benz beefed up its new mbrace2 telematics system at CES by adding a Facebook app with a limited set of features focused on locating friends and businesses. The luxury car brand is even combating the increased concern over driver distraction regarding gadgets in cars (those texting tickets aren’t cheap). The app doesn’t support any Facebook activity that requires you to enter text while the car is in motion. However, canned messages (automated responses that you have saved) and notices that you are in route to a destination along with your estimated time of arrival can be automatically posted while driving. Nearby friends, and restaurants your friends “liked” on Facebook, can be found on the app, too. However, it doesn’t support third-party Facebook apps like Farmville. Mbrace2 also allows access to Google search, stock information, news headlines and Yelp reviews through the Mercedes-Benz apps and is compatible on iOS and Android. Launching on the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL in spring 2012, mbrace2 will be standard on most 2013 models.

Car manufacturers aren’t the only ones increasing connectivity while driving. Along with the announcement of its new ultra-thin 3500 nüvi series [3] due in February, Garmin added the Android-powered Smartphone Link, which sends custom traffic information, traffic camera images, weather and fuel prices to the Bluetooth-enabled GPS. Continental, another major auto tech supplier, is turning smartphones into car keys [4]. Drivers can open and start their vehicles with a virtual car key integrated into their mobile phone that wirelessly swaps data with the vehicle. The key can store your favorite radio stations, navigation destinations and even where you parked your car.

Pandora announced new partnerships with Audiovox, Kia and Acura at CES for a total of 23 automotive partnerships, including 16 auto brands and seven aftermarket manufacturers. The more than 125 million registered people using Pandora’s personalized Internet radio can listen to their custom stations on the road and use voice commands to change stations or give feedback on a song.

“As more and more people are discovering the joy of personalized radio, automotive and consumer electronics companies are innovating to meet consumer expectations and demand,” said Tim Westergren, Pandora founder and chief strategy officer, in a press release [5].

It remains to be seen how effective PPC ads for smartphone apps and brands like Pandora will be from a mobile standpoint in cars. Pandora has a $36 RPM (revenue per thousand hours) [6] for both visual (static and video) and audio advertising, but the company anticipates a slow impact for autos since the replacement cycle in cars is about seven years. Therefore, it could take several years for the vehicular advertising snowball effect to take place.

Kalle Tompros and Dale Wilson contributed to this article.

About Matt McKinley

Matt McKinley is an SEO Creative Editor at The Search Agency. Upon graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2009, he worked as an SEO content writer and editor for a social networking site. Before joining The Search Agency, he wrote for AllFacebook.com. Matt’s interests outside of online marketing include sports, technology, movies and everything pop culture.

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