Are Automakers Planning to Stalk Their Future Buyers?

The outlook for digital marketing is getting a little creepy — tailored ads and highly precise honing in on the audience is testing the line between accurate strategy and overly intrusive.

A recent presentation during an event at the J.D. Power Automotive Marketing Roundtable #JDPAMR was very revealing, and  potentially a little bit uncomfortable for consumers. This gathering of professionals like Yong Sung, SVP & director of MediaVest’s digital client group, and CEO/co-founder of mobile data firm PlaceIQ Duncan McCall spelled out a campaign that uses tracking to market to people who are planning to buy a new car.

The new marketing effort is designed to follow people from the first bit of research they do about a new car until they actually buy a car. It’s during this process that marketing agencies will gather data about their habits and use it to more effectively place ads in front of them to sway people to buy their product/vehicle.

It was revealed during the event that automotive brands are in the process of testing this idea by using vehicle registration information combined with data gathered from researchers & location data gathered from mobile devices — it’s starting to feel a little invasive right about here isn’t it?

Sung and Duncan actually showed how tracking groups for the car shopper crowds map them as they travel around — they are doing this so they can more effectively deliver ads to people before they get to the dealerships.

The location based behavioral targeting is similar to the kind of marketing that goes on based on someone’s internet browsing history — obviously this is quite a bit more intrusive since it follows you around and knows where you go & who you are.

Why is this important to ad agencies in charge of auto brands? Because traditional marketing efforts seem to be falling flat. A recent ad by Volkswagen demonstrates this as it has been dubbed the funniest ad of the year, but is not generating much buyer response for the brand. This example proves that even when the advertisement hits the mark with viewers, it might be missing the audience entirely.

What auto brands plan to do with this data is still a little fuzzy as they have yet to figure out how to apply it to real-life marketing scenarios. One can’t help but to imagine a text message popping up on your phone on the way to the dealership that says “turn back now!” from a competing auto brand. Obviously that would be a little low-level from professional agencies, but the premise is probably something very similar.

The ultimate goal is to inspire the younger tech savvy buyers to respond to ads — something they’ve have a very difficult time doing in the recent few years. On the other hand, if that same crowd gets wind of plans like this, it could mean mass disabling of location services — but that’s pure speculation.

So if you feel like someone is following you around and taking notes on your life in the upcoming months, it might just be the next company you buy a car from. The question remains however, as to who consumers will respond. We touch on this subject frequently, which you can see in a 2011 post titled “Privacy control of growing importance to user experience”.

Author Jason Lancaster thinks certain advertising attempts by automakers can be a little creepy. He writes for, a site that aims to help car owners with the soundest advice.

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