Marcos Angelides
Marcos Angelides
A view from Marcos Angelides

Viva la commute

Not everyone has missed the slog of the daily commute, but with the return to the office now a reality, brands should be all aboard.

The race to build driverless cars is filled with familiar faces. VW, Toyota, Mercedes, Tesla, every major automotive brand is in it to win it.

And alongside them are brands like Uber and Amazon – tech businesses that rely heavily on transportation to make their money. In Uber's case, it generates income by charging a commission. If you pay £10 for a journey, the driver gets £7.50, and Uber gets £2.50. So if it removes the driver, it quadruples its revenue.

It may therefore seem strange that Google is in this space. Why would a brand that makes most of its money from advertising want to enter a category with low margins and high competition?

Well, Americans spend 70 billion hours a year behind the wheel. That's 70 billion hours they're not using their devices. So that's 70 billion hours not being monetised through digital advertising. Now multiply that by every country Google operates in.

Driverless technology will allow digital platforms to monetise people's journeys. And within those many journeys, sits the all-important commute. That twice-daily ritual that is so important for big brands.

For decades, the commute has been the backbone of any great marketing plan. From OOH and audio, to press and digital, the unrivalled opportunities to reach people at scale have sparked some of our industry's best thinking.

And. Then. Covid.

Overnight, the commute ended. Suddenly we were a planet of virtual workers. Operating from home, where once we were moving back and forth. Rather than creating more media moments, the change in routine squeezed them. People were either working longer hours or embracing flexible schedules. Either way, it made it impossible for brands to anticipate people's routines or reach them when less distracted.

But now, the human race is finally getting ready to venture outside again. It's unlikely we'll ever return to the old-world of Monday to Friday in the office. But we will begin to commute again. And that is a huge opportunity for brands.

The evening commute, for example, has always been a favourite for the food industry. Not only is it the time we start to think about dinner plans, it's also when we begin to get peckish. Countless studies show that people buy more food items when they're hungry. We also select more indulgent ingredients. That's why you see so many takeaway ads on the journey home. Most orders are impulse buys driven by hunger, rather than pre-planned decisions.

The evening commute is also when people are in a better mood. IPA Touchpoints shows that the period of 4pm to 7pm is when stress levels drop and happiness spikes. The satisfaction of finishing another hard day's graft results in an immediate hit of dopamine to the brain. And this is great news for advertisers.

Richard Shotton's research in The Choice Factory illustrates that people are more open to advertising when they're happy. This isn't a modern trend, it's an evolutionary instinct. When we're stressed, we dampen our peripheral senses so we can focus on the danger in front of us. But when we're happy, we become more open to the wider world.

In other words, the happier we are, the more attention we pay to things we'd otherwise ignore. Such as advertising.

At this point, it may seem that the morning commute has little to offer, swamped in an ocean of anxiety and frustration as it is. But that's not the case. Anxiety triggers the fight-or-flight response. And in the context of a morning commute, our flight response is to find a new lifestyle.

That's why we see so many job listings in the morning paper. Or holiday ads as we trundle to work. We're more responsive to the promise of something new while battling the boredom of old routines.

The morning's also when our resolve is highest, which is why sporting goods and health brands perform so well. Someone who's decided to make a lifestyle change will be more aware of these messages at the start of the day. The same ads in the afternoon will have less impact, particularly if the person has undermined their good intentions by having a few pints for lunch.

Time and again, we're reminded about the importance of the daily commute. And, after a 15-month hiatus, it's finally coming back. Whether we board traditional trains or futuristic driverless cars, the opportunity is equally compelling. Brands that anticipate our daily routines will reap the rewards; those that don't will be tossed aside like an expired travel card.

Marcos Angelides is chief strategy and innovation officer at Spark Foundry