A new captive audience - it's electric
Which brands will wake up to the dawn of a new golden age?
Courtesy of Shell UK
In the halcyon days of commercial TV, the channel owners grew rich on the inflated value of the 30 second spot. It’s the limited space between programmes when consumer brands vie for your time and attention, typically in 30 second slots. If you’re a fan of scheduled television, or of a certain age, you’ll be familiar with interruptive TV. The cost of watching your favourite commercial TV programmes comes at a price; a non-negotiable TV licence in the UK and an acceptance of ad breaks.
Interruption didn’t go away with the advent of the internet either, it simply morphed into new formats. They’re every bit as annoying even though better targeted at you and me.
Shell Recharge on the Fulham Road
What else is there to do on a Sunday afternoon, apart from clean and fill-up the car, making sure to be back in time for an FA Cup Quarter Final match between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool (including ad breaks)?
I’d never been to a petrol station before which doesn’t sell fossil fuels. Here, the petrol and diesel pumps have been replaced with 9 rapid charge points, comfortably spaced on the forecourt. Look-up and you’ll see solar roof panels which provide a quarter of the electricity needed to run the site. They also remind visitors that the shop front is double glazed and the wooden canopy is made from glued sheets of timber, which take less energy to produce and transport than steel ones would. More importantly, the chargers all run on certified, renewable electricity.
My electric vehicle (EV), took 47 minutes to reach 80% charge and cost Onto, the hire company, £15, using their Shell corporate card.
What to do with 47 minutes?
Forecourts have improved a lot in the last 20 years, with most offering some sort of convenient, retail experience beyond fuel. Shell offered me a Little Waitrose for Sunday lunch extras and a Costa Coffee next door. Not a branded machine in the corner of the shop, but the sort with tables, where you can sit down, a proper caff. I bought myself a green tea and rued the fact that I’d neglected to bring my Mac, so I could start this week’s newsletter even sooner.
Which brings me back to my original point. Brands used to scramble for the best 30 second spots in an ad break trying to capture some of your attention. Now there’s a new opportunity. I’m a captive audience, with time on my hands, all 47 minutes of it. Entertain me.
Starbucks experiment in the US
Starbucks has 15,000 coffee shops in the US. With all that sunk cost, they must always have their antenna up, looking for ways to increase customer traffic. The penny must have dropped because they’ve decided to install charge points along a 1,350 mile route from Denver to Seattle. You get the chance to plug-in roughly every 100 miles in an area of the US which has few other options apparently. A dearth of chargers makes Starbucks, at least on this route, the reliable EV brand of choice, even if volumes of vehicles are nowhere near where they’re going to need to be. They’ve partnered with Chargepoint, the world’s largest and most open EV charging network, according to their web site. I’ve not had the pleasure yet in the UK, but it looks like a really shrewd, first-mover advantage for Starbucks.
Tip of the iceberg
Selling coffee and cake to an EV driver, makes complete sense, when the shop is already there. I wonder what other brands are thinking, to try and muscle in on this growing captive audience?
When I think Denver to Seattle, I imagine a long straight road disappearing into the distance across Utah, Nevada, and beyond, interrupted by lots of small towns. Forgive my ignorance as a Brit, but surely Denny’s (the famous US diner) are already digging up the corner of their car parks to fit charging points? I suspect there might also be an over subscription of churches which could make use of this opportunity, recharging our souls as well as what we drive.
On a recent trip with Mrs H. to Chester, we stopped at Stroud Park, my favourite electric hookup, close to the M40 (and nowhere near Stroud), which has 8 reliable Instavolt chargers. It also has a Premier Inn, Costa Coffee and a Miller and Carter nearby - food, drink, bed. My best serendipitous moment, was a similar trip, in the Midlands, just off the M6. The chargers were on the edge of a big village, a detour of 10-15 minutes. After plugging in, I spent the next hour eating a delicious Indian supper, which was a 50 metre walk from the car. A tasty authentic change from anything motorway service stations currently offer.
A great shopping experience has to be the other obvious place to overpopulate charging points. At our local Westfield, Shepherd’s Bush, Tesla has already installed a monopoly of them. The few available for every other manufacturer, were not free to access with my current rental. It’s still a good idea though.
Location, location, location
The brands that should be interested in your captive minutes are going to be determined by where you need to charge.
Inner city charging is very different to out-of-town retail parks where space is cheaper and more readily available. In this case brands are likely to adopt the adage, build and they will come. I expect the volume of EVs needs to grow before brands outside food and drink start to show-up in their numbers. It’s not inconceivable to think of new cinemas, bowling alleys even bike shops, vying for your attention.
In the city, new partnerships will develop, because the link between charging and your inner city coffee shop is not a given. Once you’re plugged in, there are many distractions. The trick might be to give the EV driver a hassle free experience finding a charger in the first place. If the coffee shop doesn’t own the chargers, they could sponsor the app which finds them, which conveniently adds in the distance and direction to walk to your nearest Flat White.
Autonomous vehicles will change our behaviour even more
Courtesy of Just Auto
I know I could be 10 years ahead of myself here, but when you can legally sleep in a vehicle as it speeds you to your destination, even more changes.
Firstly, the inside of the vehicle will be different. It won’t need a steering wheel (unless there’s some legacy legal requirement). It will be designed with comfort in mind, so more akin to a first class airline seat for work, rest and play. It could conceivably become the preferred transport of choice over short haul flights and trains. We’re wedded to our cocoons, so why not, if it’s as simple as putting in a destination in Google Maps?
If an EV replaces your hotel bed, then what happens at the end of the journey? I think the first class arrivals lounge might be replaced with a gym, offering a body conditioning class, hot shower and a healthy breakfast. Does that mean gyms will start locating in car parks, which will probably be called car ports by then?
The EV is unlikely to be yours, so no additional stress. Just go. Pick up your return journey, whenever you’re ready.
Cheers for the shout out Andrew