“The Greatest Show on Earth” may be the tagline for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, but for technology brands, marketing bigwigs and the hungry entrepreneur, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is truly a show not to miss. For a show this monolithic, Las Vegas is the only location worthy of entertaining the 140,000 or so industry professionals who attend every year. Plus we all know Vegas throws the best parties.
I’m a tech nerd mixed with a creative mind sprinkled with a decent amount of marketing knowledge. So this post may feel all over the place as I talk about the things I took away from it. Also, if you need more background on CES, feel free to get the Wikipedia download.
"...I probably couldn’t throw a microprocessor without hitting a social media guru."
The words “Consumer Electronics Show” may confuse you...hell, they confused me. This show doesn’t allow any consumers to attend. Industry only. Obviously, the word “industry” gets pretty broad, as I probably couldn’t throw a microprocessor without hitting a social media guru. But there are also plenty of investors, analysts and media that clog the halls. Behind closed doors lots of deals are being made for new technology products. Meanwhile, throughout the conference, some of the great minds in today’s business world are giving keynotes and panels on the future of technology and its effects on the consumer and, most importantly, how advertising fits in. ’Cause we all know that’s how the world makes money...selling ads.
This is where I segue shamelessly into the reason why I attended CES this year. Basically, I lucked out. Wunderman’s very own chairman and CEO, Daniel Morel, couldn’t attend a panel he was supposed to speak on. So clearly, I’m was the next in line to speak in place of Mr. Morel (insert sarcastic tone). I’m not quite there yet. But luckily I’ve been fortunate enough to speak at quite a few events in the past and, since I work at the Wunderman West office in Irvine, California, which is only a hop/skip/jump away from Las Vegas, it was an easy choice for Andrew Sexton, our VP, director of North American media relations, to give me the nod. Lucky, yes. Chairman and CEO, I’m not... Yet.
So I get to Vegas Wednesday morning and find the Digital Hollywood check-in. For those unfamiliar, Digital Hollywood is a long-time committee that organizes great conferences in LA and NYC, focusing on creating together panels of influential people talking about the future of content and opportunities in the entertainment space. They are clearly a great fit for CES. The panel I was speaking on was entitled “The Future of Enhanced Advertising: Addressing Brands, Message, Technology, Media and Entertainment.” And I was surrounded on the panel by some great minds, like Rick Song, general manager of Eastern U.S. sales for Microsoft Advertising; Chet Fenster, managing partner for MEC (WPP); Davina Kent, VP Comcast Media; David Kang, creative director for content extensions, Hearst Magazines; and the moderator, Xavier Kochhar, managing partner for MediaLink LLC.
"Because now we know who you are, better than ever before. It’s scary."
Quickly summing up the panel: We all pretty much agreed that the growth of technology, especially in tablets and smart TVs, is only going to help us to target our advertising better. Since everyone is so connected, we as advertisers and buyers can make more strategic media buys. To really understand who is willing to listen, engage and then give them the opportunity to engage easily without stress or inconvenience…basically, instead of wasting huge media buys that blast to millions of people, of whom only .003 percent are in the mindset to be sold on such a product. We now know exactly if YOU are the demographic right for the brands we are advertising for. This also spawns from the amount of screens reaching consumers now. TVs, phones, tablets, laptops, desktop PCs, cars with screens. Hell, even your fridge now has a screen or it will soon. This means everyone is more connected now. For example, your car plugs into your house and wirelessly tells the smart meter on your home that you consumed X amount of energy and sends you a text. Meanwhile, your fridge knows you’re low on milk and frozen pizza, and so it pushes coupons to your tablet for the next time you go grocery shopping, which it scheduled on your phone’s calendar and the fastest route is mapped on your car’s GPS. All the while, you’re watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, getting an ad for DiGiornio frozen pizza, the competitor of what you normally buy. Why? Because now we know who you are, better than ever before. It’s scary. But it’s kind of great at the same time. Because sending me an ad for low-fat ice cream wouldn’t have been relevant to my needs. And this sort of misinformed marketing is clearly what we are used to getting blasted with. It’s irrelevant.
"Clearly, those late-night arguments with my ECD on the future of marketing are paying off."
The panel ended in applause from the packed room. In the end I was relieved to know that the other respected colleagues on the panel are on the same page I am. Clearly, those late-night arguments with my ECD on the future of marketing are paying off. I guess I owe him a bourbon.
The rest of the day, I just tried to take in the CES showroom floors. It’s a bit overwhelming: giant 3-D TV walls where soccer balls fly at your face, music blaring from all directions, cameras flashing, and large groups of people standing and waiting their turn to touch the next great thing. There’s clearly something for every geek. Personally, I was happy to get a chance to play with the new RED Scarlett camera (thanks @CarolynRuiz) and see the future of interactive TV via Panasonic and LG. And some amazing 3-D from Sony. Even the automotive presence was intriguing. Mercedes was showing off their radically new in-vehicle user interface. Your hand gestures activate different displays in the dashboard and on the window. The windows even display restaurant names as you drive by them in real time. Quite amazing. The car displays themselves were also a sight to see. Audi could have won an award for brightest and most futuristic display. The low ceiling is actually five rows of grid-like LED lights with a mirror behind all of that. You can figuratively get lost in space looking up. The cars looked spectacular under the lighting as well.
"Health tech is clearly going to be big this coming year and next."
The other big push from the big brands revolved around health and comfort. From LG’s new refrigerators that keep you on your diet by suggesting items to eat, to Toshiba’s creating a network hub for your home’s appliances that regulates power in peak hours and keeps your home comfortable and efficient year-round. Of course everyone and their mother has a new device and app that tracks your steps or monitors your sleep patterns. Health tech is clearly going to be big this coming year and next. I for one can’t wait to plug in and give in to the future of health and weight loss.
"...more screens means more ways to reach the consumer with (hopefully) great, compelling, emotional advertising."
Where does marketing fit in to all this tech? It’s not real clear yet. We do know that there are more screens in our homes than ever before. From your fridge, to your bathroom mirrors, to tablets, tables, and the three or more TVs you will own, more screens means more ways to reach the consumer with (hopefully) great, compelling, emotional advertising. Right, agencies?!
I’ll briefly mention the side of CES that everyone really goes for...the after-parties. My adventure down the rabbit hole started at Wired Cafe, which was located at the swanky Surrender Nightclub at the Encore hotel. Wired always does a stellar job hosting events (their Comic-Con setup is the sole reason I keep going). Besides the free cocktails, their Gadget Lab was set up for us to play with some of the cool tech featured at CES, a nice touch. The space girls they had dancing around didn’t hurt either.
"We arrive at the Pinball Museum and waiting for us are about 50 pizzas, cases of ice-cold beer and a jar full of quarters. Play on, they said."
My next trip landed me somewhere I’d never been in Vegas before and would probably never want to be. But for this night, it was the greatest treat ever: the Pinball Museum. When you jump on a random limo bus, you assume you’re going to Ghost Bar or the Foundation Room. Nope. This is CES, and geeks love games. I’m clearly at home with these people. We arrive at the Pinball Museum and waiting for us are about 50 pizzas, cases of ice-cold beer and a jar full of quarters. Play on, they said. For two hours I played pinball games from my favorite movies like Jurassic Park and Star Wars, and games from the early 1900s that included a hand-drawn automated flip-book of an old boxing match. On the limo bus back, I sat next to @ijustine (de facto sexy CES queen) and we recapped our favorite games. All the while I was thinking "shouldn't you be at some celebrities private party?" She then pulled out her Nintendo 3DS and plays for a few minutes before we got to the hotel. Yes, twitterverse, she’s that geeky and cute as we all had hoped. To end the night, I met up with my good friend Makers Mark and his buddy Black Jack, who then proceeded to take $300 of my lunch money. You’re welcome, Vegas.
In closing…CES is a must-go-to event if you’re in advertising. I feel like I have such a head start on knowing how consumers want to interact with their devices and how those devices are changing the way consumers interact with the world. Knowing this gives us Creatives a huge leg up in the fight for attention from brand to brand. I personally can’t wait to use some of this knowledge for a brand I’m working on. In this day and age, you need every edge you can get. Thanks, CES, for 24 hours of awesome.