Are You Ready for the Self-Driving Car?

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A few weeks ago, Adweek‘s Chris Heine asked me how soon Americans will accept self-driving cars — or vehicles that do all the driving while everyone in the car kicks back and enjoys the ride, freed up to bury our noses in our mobile phones, watch movies on longer drives, and do all the other things passengers do. I responded that many Americans are acting already as if they’re behind the wheel of a self-driving car, judging from the number of distracted drivers I see texting, reading, fussing with their kids, and, well, basically doing all the other things passengers do.

Silicon Valley and Detroit are bringing self-driving cars to our lives sooner than you think, as I discuss in a new blog post for SIM Partners. And I believe I believe a critical mass of consumers — enough to support the uptake of driverless cars — will accept autonomous vehicles as soon as automakers make them commercially viable and demonstrate how safe they are.

As I write in my post (which focuses on the marketing implications of self-driving cars), driverless cars are expected to be hitting our roads in 2020, and a number of developments are hastening the process. The two vanguards of autonomous driving, Google and Tesla, have generated plenty of headlines, and justifiably so, for making self-driving cars real and achievable. But the behemoths of the traditional model, the big automakers, are making breakthroughs, too. General Motors recently announced with Lyft a $500 million partnership that includes a self-driving service. At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Ford announced it is testing a self-driving car in poor weather conditions, thus tackling what is considered to be an impediment to driverless performance (which Google had been testing already). Mercedes-Benz rolled out the 2017 semi-autonomous E-class sedan, thus bridging between the world we know today and the one that’s coming (as Tesla is doing with semi-autonomous cars).

That so many automakers are adapting to a new role of “mobility company” (to cite words used by Jeremiah Owyang in January 12 VentureBeat article) tells me how real the autonomous world is. Legacy brands shaped by 20th Century assumptions are embracing a 21st Century business model instead of fighting it.

Are consumers ready for self-driving cars, though? I think the answer depends on a number of factors, including where you live and your emotional attachment to the idea of driving a car. The World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group recently surveyed of city dwellers around the world and found that 52 percent Americans are likely or unlikely to try a self-driving car, with 17 percent neutral. But it stands to reason that city dwellers are going to be more open to trying self-driving cars given the hassles of city driving. In 2014, Pew Research conducted a similar survey that included a more broadly defined audience. Interestingly, 52 percent of city dwellers also said they wanted to ride in a driverless car, but only 36 percent of people in rural areas were interested. Overall, 50 percent of respondents were interested in a driverless experience, and 48 percent were not.

Reservations about self-driving cars are predictable, ranging from concerns about safety (“what if this car makes a mistake on the expressway, and I cannot stop it?”) to loss of control.

I think it’s interesting that in April 2014, 48 percent of the public was actually open to riding in a driverless car — that’s nearly half the population being open to riding in a driverless car even though we’ve been conditioned to accept a conventional driving experience for decades. In fact, we’re already adapting our behaviors to smarter cars that do everything from help us search to manage our media. The development of semi-autonomous cars from Mercedes-Benz and Tesla will help ease in the self-driving experience, but more affordable brands such as Ford would have more of an impact

With effective marketing and the introduction of cost-effective alternatives, I believe self-driving cars will first gain the trust of key demographic segments such as city dwellers and aging baby boomers who have the most to benefit from driverless vehicles. The future will arrive in stages.

And once that trust takes hold, there will be no turning back.

I am curious to see how soon driverless cars emerge, especially after, a few days ago, I dodged a distracted driver who careened the wrong way down a one-way street. Computers make mistakes, too. But I’ll take my chances.


How dead is the web?

With all the recent talk about the “death of the web,” you would think that consumers and marketers are abandoning the humble website like a jilted lover in favor of more attractive options like iPhone apps. And yet two recent examples indicate that leading brands take their websites quite seriously:

  • According to the Forbes CMO Network, Disney has revamped the website to include the Create portal, a more interactive experience where children can create their own artwork and photo mash-ups using Disney characters and stories. Paul Yanover, executive vice president and managing director of Disney Online, tells Forbes that since last year, more than 2.5 million pieces of unique content have been created on as part of a commitment to make the website more of a destination for consumers to create and collaborate with Disney.
  • Levi Strauss & Co. has worked with Duke/Razorfish (the French operations of my employer Razorfish) to launch Curve ID, an online fitting experience. Curve ID helps women configure Levi’s denimwear to their own body type. Duke/Razorfish designed Curve ID based on 60,000 women’s figures and launched the experience in 50 countries and 20 languages. Olivier Abel, managing director of Duke/Razorfish, tells me that with Curve ID is more than a website — but a “major product initiative changing the way women choose their jeans” and a shift in thinking from expecting women to find the right size to helping women configure the right fit. (For more information about Curve ID, these Brand Republic and Brand Channel articles are helpful.)

Too often the “web is dead” hype paints the story in black and white either/or terms. Either we’re visiting websites or using mobile devices. We’re making purchasing decisions online or in stores. In fact, consumers incorporate many touch points to learn about brands. They don’t choose one or the other. (Eight out of 10 consumers surveyed by Razorfish in 2009 still obtain news primarily from websites in addition to other platforms.)

Instead of making either/or choices, smart brands are figuring out how to connect these touch points, as Forrester Research has reported time and again. In the same article about Disney’s revamped, Paul Yanover tells Forbes that Disney is figuring out how to extend its digital experience across mobile devices and social platforms like YouTube. Levi’s Curve ID offers visitors the option of configuring and purchasing denim online or in-store. And the Razorfish San Francisco office just launched the Polyvore Community Challenge, a contest in which consumers can win Levi’s Curve ID jeans by creating and nominating their own digital clothing ensembles on a community site. Consumers can post designs on their own social sites like Facebook.

As Rachel Lanham, Razorfish vice president and Levi’s client partner, tells me, “The Polyvore Community Challenge is similar to Disney Create because it’s all about getting the consumer involved and engaged in telling the brand story. Consumers make the brand theirs on their own platforms, sometimes on a brand website and in other cases on a social site.”

Another Razorfish client, Axe, recently worked with Razorfish  to make its Axe Effect website a hub linking all the social properties where consumers interact with Axe.

But making a brand experience flourish across multiple platforms is just part of the story. Companies like Axe, Coors Light, Disney, Levi’s, and Mercedes-Benz are turning their websites into playful experiences by continuing to apply rich media and 3D technology. Consumers can get those rich experiences from games and movies now. It’s only natural that the website evolves, too.

Maybe a better way to describe what’s happening is not death but rebirth: websites evolving from disconnected islands of information to experiences connected across many platforms.

How the NFL & Facebook build the Coors Light Brand


For Coors Light, winning the hearts and minds of men aged 21-34 means serving up a different kind of brew that combines the excitement of the NFL and the reach of Facebook. The official beer of the NFL has worked with my employer Razorfish to launch its first-ever Coors Light Football page. In my view, Coors Light Football demonstrates the increasingly sophisticated ways that companies are using Facebook to create an experience that builds their brands. Among the features of the new page:

  • Silver Bullet Pick ‘Em. Football fans accumulate points by predicting weekly game winners. And in the social tradition of Facebook, they can challenge their friends to top their scores. On a weekly basis, Coors Light rewards $100 gift certificates to participants, which can be used to purchase Coors Light merchandise. Gamers are also eligible to win a home entertainment center.
  • Coach’s Cold Call. Type your friends’ phone numbers into this application, and the next time they pick up their phones, the gravelly voice of Mike Ditka will be on the line telling them to drop what they’re doing and grab a Coors Light. (And yes Coach Ditka worked with Razorfish to patiently record voice-overs customized for different names.)
  • Bobble-Nator. Capturing the nostalgic value of the Bobble Head doll, the Bobble-Nator makes it possible for you to create a Bobble Head of yourself and use it as your Facebook profile picture. And I think it takes a lot of courage to do that unless your name happens to be Tom Brady.



Coors Light Football continues a Coors Light/Razorfish collaboration that has built the Coors Light brand in association with the NFL. As reported recently in the Charlotte Business Journal, during the 2009 NFL season Razorfish launched the Coors Light NFL digital campaign, which featured Coors Light-sponsored content on digital properties such as,, and As part of the campaign, Razorfish created a tool that fantasy football fans could use to analyze potential trades. Throughout the course of the campaign, the Coors Light Facebook page doubled its fan base, and people spent an average of 3 minutes per visit on the Coors Light mobile site.

With its latest effort, Coors Light shows how leading brands are upping the stakes for having a presence on Facebook. In a recent report, “How to Create an Effective Brand Presence on Facebook,” Forrester Research analyst Melissa Parrish notes that accumulating 100,000+ fans is just table stakes for succeeding on Facebook. Melissa points out that creating engaging content is among the other essential must-haves for extending one’s brand to Facebook. That’s what companies like Coors Light and Mercedes-Benz are doing with the use of rich media, while other brands like IKEA have employed Facebook to offer creative, smart promotions.

In “The 8 Success Criteria for Facebook Page Marketing,” Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter Group mentions the importance of providing a cohesive brand, for instance by creating custom applications or tabs that resonate with one’s brand. Coors Light Football is linked to the official Coors Light Facebook page in order to benefit from the natural traffic generated by the nearly 400,000 people who are fans of the Coors Light page. The Facebook page also cross-links to the Coors Light website via a Silver Ticket contest through which you can win tickets to NFL games. Moreover the Coors Light website promotes the Facebook page (Razorfish advocates this tight integration rather than completely handing over one’s brand to a third-party cloud site).

I hope you’ll check out the new page and let me know what you think of it. Now are you ready for some football?

New Razorfish report discusses how marketers have responded to the recession

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Today my employer Razorfish announces the publication of the sixth annual Razorfish Outlook Report. This report takes a hard look at trends affecting the chief marketing officer, drawing on essays from thought leaders and an analysis of 2009 media spend by Razorfish clients. Here are a few highlights from the 2010 edition (#RZOR):

1. Good news/bad news: economic recovery is here

An economic recovery is under way — which is good news or bad news depending on whether you innovated during the recession. Optimism about a recovery stems from the fact that Razorfish clients increased their media spend by 4 percent in 2009 versus a 13 percent drop in 2008. We believe that the CMOs who used the down time to innovate and advance their brands are in a great place. Those that failed to do so are going to fall further behind the innovators. MillerCoors innovated during the recession, for instance with a new product feature, the cold-activated can. Mercedes-Benz USA innovated with the launch of the E-Class sedan. Those companies are poised to fully benefit from an economic turnaround.

2. Recession = digital experimentation for many

Razorfish clients had an appetite for experimentation with their media spend in 2009. One hundred percent of Razorfish clients that spent on digital-out-of-home did so for the first time in 2009. Eight out of 10 clients who invested into ad exchanges were doing so for the first time (as opposed to simply carrying over their spend from 2008). All told, the channels that were most popular for experimentation in 2009 included data brokers, digital out-of-home, and ad exchanges.

3. Watch out, Google

Google still dominated search in a recessionary environment, but not for long. About 45 percent of Razorfish clients’ media spend in 2009 was invested into portals and search. Google still leads the search category. However, Razorfish expects the combination of Microsoft Bing and Yahoo! to challenge Google’s dominance. Bing is a good example of how innovation can occur even with a tried-and-true form of marketing — search.

4. Think and act locally

Many clients are also learning how to think and act locally as they emerge from the recession and seek to grow globally. The popular credo “think globally, act locally,” does not adequately explain what those marketers need to do. In fact, global marketers need to immerse themselves in the increasingly sophisticated and fragmented micromarkets around the world — thinking and acting locally several times over if you will. That’s why the Razorfish Outlook Report contains perspectives on the growth of global markets (in a chapter known as “Looking Ahead”). For instance, Razorfish Strategy Executive Joe Crump contributes a tantalizing point of view on Brazil, an increasingly powerful and digitally savvy market crucial to global players like Nike. Joe discusses “Classe C,” an increasingly upwardly mobile economic cluster of 70 million people who are shaping the future of Brazil. Joe asserts that the digitally savvy Classe C has rapidly made Brazil too important for any serious marketer to ignore. Joe is now launching research into Classe C that will be unveiled later in 2010.

I invite you to explore the report, and feel free to download charts and graphics from flicker. I welcome your comments. What I’ve summarized here barely scratches the surface.

Technology = customer experience in 2010

AT&T Retail Surface Experience from Razorfish – Emerging Experiences on Vimeo.

Recently my employer Razorfish appointed Ray Velez to the newly created position of chief technology officer — a move that underscores the importance of information technology to the agency business.  As my Razorfish colleague Joe Mele wrote, “You better have devs in your creative department.”  In 2010 you can expect more talk about technology coming from agencies and marketers — but what we’re really talking about creating great experiences that build businesses.

Much has been said already about how agencies need to possess strong “back-end technology skills” in order to compete effectively — as if technology is supposed to be an invisible support tool.  It’s certainly true that the ability to link a web store front to an ecommerce booking engine requires gritty technology lifting skills beneath the surface.  But in addition, technology helps clients create memorable customer experiences in highly visible and innovative ways.

Clients and agencies are at a crossroads.  Customarily agencies have helped clients say things more effectively.  But clients need agencies to help them do things more effectively, like launch new products and services, create great consumer experiences, and participate in the social world.  As Jeff Bezos said, “Your brand is formed, primarily, not by what your company says about itself, but what the company does.”

Technology is essential to empowering brands to do things, especially in the creation of great experiences in the digital world.  For instance, Mercedes-Benz USA and Razorfish applied CGI to bring to life the luxurious nature of the new E-class sedan via a digital campaign and immersive microsite.  Three-D technology was essential to a recent effort to demonstrate the features of the new Coors Light cold activated can on the Project:Cold microsite.  And AT&T has turned mobile phone shopping into a playful experience by applying Microsoft Surface in-store.

To be sure, the real innovation occurs when technology is coupled with customer insight, creativity, and strong user experience skills.  But technology is the catalyst, front and center.

When he was announced as CTO, Ray Velez discussed the importance of cloud computing at Razorfish.  He was thinking of companies like H&R Block, where Razorfish used an existing cloud infrastructure to create the Don’t Miss It Game (instead of building a video hosting infrastructure).  In February 2010 Razorfish will give a more complete insight into the importance of cloud computing to the marketer at our third Technology Summit in San Francisco.  Throughout 2010, multitouch will continue to play an important role in the work we do, too, shown to great advantage on the Razorfish Emerging Experiences blog.

You can get a better sense of the Razorfish technology vision on the Razorfish Technology blog, hosted by Ray Velez.  And of course through our work throughout the year.

Mercedes-Benz USA creates luxury online

In earlier blog posts, I’ve discussed how Razorfish clients like Intel, Mattel, and MillerCoors are making bold product launches amid the recession.  All along, Mercedes-Benz USA has been doing just that.

Case in point: as announced recently, MBUSA has launched the 2010 E-Class automobile with the support of a major online/offline marketing effort managed by Merkley & Partners and my employer Razorfish.  In doing so, MBUSA has stayed true to its brand and avoided the temptation to compete on price during down times.

As Steve Cannon, vice president of marketing for MBUSA, told The New York Times, “I’d rather tell our brand story, our innovation story, our value story, than join the chorus of everyone else that’s screaming ‘sale’ — that’s about the only message that’s out there right now.”

And the entire marketing campaign, “Everything We Know, Everything We Are: This Is Mercedes-Benz,” reflects the Mercedes-Benz reputation for innovation and a first-class automotive experience.

The digital experience shows you what MBUSA has in mind rather than hit you over the head with the message.  For instance, the online advertising uses cool CGI-enhanced videos including 3-D homepage takeovers of and  Normally we associate CGI with the innovative minds of Pixar.  By employing CGI in its advertising, MBUSA ups the ante for state-of-the-art digital advertising.  (Also demonstrating innovation, MBUSA and Razorfish employ the new Online Publishers Association standards for the ads).

As reported in ClickZ, the ads expand into super-sized web pages with an E-Class coupe bursting out of a 3-D version of The New York Times front page, backlit by a city under a night sky.  You can also rotate the car for a better look.

I like what Razorfish Client Partner Pat Frend told ClickZ “We used CGI to create those compelling environments to tell about those features in ways that are easy for users to understand, and in ways that are also beautiful.”

MBUSA understands that making luxury auto features easy to understand is not the same as dumbing down a product for consumers.  Rather, the technology actually increases the wow factor and draws the consumer into the world of MBUSA.

Razorfish also helped MBUSA create a special E-Class section of the MBUSA website, which also features CGI-enhanced videos.  And in another nod to innovation, MBUSA is using mobile web applications to target consumers using devices such as iPhones.  You can also view the E-Class autos on YouTube.

The online ads launched July 1.  Check them out and let me know what you think of them.