Customized Advertising for Free GPS Units: Good Idea or Not?


There are two places I frequent that I like to call my “idea incubators.” One of them I don’t want to describe in detail. The other is more suited for public conversation and a place we all spend a lot of time:

The car.

I often cruise the highways alone in my car, music off, just listening to the purr of the engine and letting my thoughts go wherever they want. Sometimes I get brilliant ideas in my idea incubator.

Yesterday I was cruising along when I glanced to the side and noticed a car in the lane next to mine with a window-mounted GPS unit. Nothing special about that, since millions of drivers use the electronic satellite-based help for directions every day, but this time seeing that GPS gave me an idea.

It occurred to me that when we use GPS, it typically means we’re somewhere unfamiliar. We’re a captive audience to whatever that box tells us. So why not use it for advertising? Not only that, but why not give away free GPS units to people who agree to view ads?

Wouldn't want to just drive right by...

Hear me out on this. I think it’s brilliant. To receive a free unit, a person would have to fill out a form providing his or her age, gender, geographic location, interests, etc. The unit and its advertising would be customized based upon those criteria and learn more about the owner the more he or she uses the unit.

The system would eventually learn what kind of preferences the person has. A high-end clothes shopper? Someone who frequents live theater? A coffee connoisseur? In addition to driving directions, the little voice in the box would start saying things like, “Have you tried Starbucks’ new Trenta-sized quad coconut mocha frappuccino? Stop in and let us handcraft one for you today for just $3.50! There will be a Starbucks on your right in three blocks.”

If I knew how to market this idea myself, I would. But, like I said, I’m more of an idea generator. So consider this one your Monday freebie!

Customized advertising for free GPS units: Good idea or not?


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  1. Ah, I can see it now. Imagine the robovoice of your nav unit.
    “Starbucks ahead on the right. Wouldn’t you just love a nice hot latte’ and a scone?”
    “Turn right 100 feet back from where you are now.”
    “Whew, this traffic is intense. More congestion ahead. Wouldn’t a Lucky Strike be nice now? It will calm you down.”
    “I would happily show you a much better route to your destination if you only upgrade to the $29 a month navigation plan.”

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