Cracking the Commuter Code

Ron Rodrigues, Sr. Audio Strategist

Businesses everywhere are feeling the impact of disruptive trends—such as digital technologies, the “app” economy, or shifting demographics. However, two industries in particular are feeling it the most: media and personal transportation.

  1. Consumers are rapidly replacing traditional media with digital from their mobile and connected devices.
  2. The auto industry faces intense competition from ride-sharing alternatives, pressure to develop electrified and autonomous vehicles, and an overall decline in sales, especially among young people.

One-third of all audio that Americans consume daily is done while in the car. 1 Once we heard this astounding stat, we couldn’t help but wonder how the above disruptive trends are affecting the way people use media on the road.

The Study

To get to the answers, Pandora collaborated with Omnicom Media Group and Edison Research for an intensive study of those Americans who spend more time in their vehicles than anybody: daily car commuters. According to the Census Bureau, 115 million Americans drive to work alone.2 Edison selected 1,100 respondents to represent those who spend at least 20 minutes in each direction of their commutes.

A thousand of the respondents answered a detailed questionnaire about their in-car media habits, however, we all know actions speak louder than words. To supplement the questionnaire, 109 respondents agreed to install a GoPro camera pointed at the dashboard so that the driver’s interaction with the car’s media controls could be observed and analyzed by Edison Research. This kind of “ethnographic” study is valuable, in that it reflects what a consumer does, as opposed to what they say they do.


The Findings

In-car audio users fell into three distinct groupings, and over indexed in the following behaviors:

  • RESTLESS: About a quarter of the heavy commuters were in this group. Drivers in this group are likely to jump from one AM/FM station to the next during their drives, and their thirst for digital media tech in their next cars outpaces the other groups.
  • SEEKERS: Accounting for nearly half of heavy commuters, these drivers represent the core age group of employed people, have the longest commutes and listen to a variety of media in their cars.
  • KEEPERS: This group includes an older generation and those with short commutes. As a result, their desire for an in-dash entertainment system is the lowest of the three groups.

There’s a lot of switching when listening to AM/FM radio. The Commuter Code study found that in-car AM/FM listeners frequently switched away from unwanted music or to avoid ads. Visual evidence from the GoPro study found that AM/FM listeners switched three times as often (202%) than when they were listening to any other source of audio in the car, such as streaming, podcasts, and satellite radio.1

Drivers crave new technologies in their cars. Already, two-thirds of commuters have connected their mobile devices to the car system to listen to audio during their drives. Among one-year auto intenders, 71% said it is “important” that their next vehicle have an in-dash system for information and entertainment; this finding compares to the 58% who felt the same way in a similar study conducted in 2015.1

The Impact

  • As the media and vehicle industries continue to evolve with these rapidly changing demands, the Commuter Code study underscores the now and future consumer’s thirst for personalized, digital media in their cars. If they don’t have the built-in digital technology of a Connected Car now, they’ll use their mobile devices until they get an in-dash system in their next vehicle.
  • The high rate of switching while listening to AM/FM radio is a reflection of what happens when someone is listening to non-personalized content. While unwanted music is a primary reason for switching, so is avoiding ads. AM/FM pod placement and quick-engaging ad creative may become a crucial tactic for marketers.
  • Heavy commuters don’t always display the same media habits, but the majority of them place a high value on digital audio in the car. Younger drivers (age 18-34) switch constantly when all they have is AM/FM radio, and core commuters (aged 35-54) index high for streaming audio.1

In-car technology and behavioral changes are all pointing to one clear winner: digital streaming audio. Commute time is the perfect opportunity for you to reach your target audience when they’re engaged and ready to hear your message. Make the most of this one-on-one time with drivers by partnering with the #1 streaming brand in the car, Pandora.

Want to learn more? Reach out to us today and check back early next year with additional findings from the Commuter Code study.

1 The Commuter Code, Edison Research, Omnicom Media Group, Pandora, 2018 2 U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2017