I spent all of last week in Las Vegas at CES. Me and thousands and thousands of other ad industry folks joined the historically geeky crowd jazzed by the newest in consumer electronics. We ogled the latest version of skinning, smart TVs, took meetings from early morning to late at night, heard ad and marketing execs like GE’s Beth Comstock talk about the future of the industry -- and, of course, attended party after party after party.
Why were we all there? Five years ago, few from the ad industry ever trekked to Vegas to one of the world's largest tech shows. Back then, it was all about product launches -- and the CES press covered only what retailers and industry pundits thought about the newest devices -- not consumers, general marketers or the ad industry.
But that’s changed now. Virtually every major U.S. brand and certainly every major ad agency and media company was represented in Las Vegas last week. Why the newfound love affair between the ad industry and CES?
Importance of consumer electronics in everyday life. No longer are consumer electronics just toys for geeks. Today, a large portion of the world population, especially Americans, have multiple chip-driven, digital electronic devices. The pace of change in these devices is so fast that if you don’t see them early in their release cycle, they might already own your market before you can do something about it. Just look at iPad-like tablets. Three years ago they didn’t even exist and today they are a $20 billion market with enormous implications for the TV, book, music, publishing and communication industries.
Show-floor theatrics. Seeing tens of thousands of folks obsess over brain-wave navigation for video gaming, 120-inch TVs no wider than a thick piece of glass, and more kinds of 3-D viewing that one can imagine would ever become mainstream, is simply great theater.
Ad industry is there in significant number now. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy, but CES is now big with the ad industry because, well, the ad industry is now there. Not only is there lots of cool stuff to see on the floor, but there are lots of important folks to run into, as well. When thousands of your colleagues, peers, clients, prospects and partners from around the world are in the same city at the same time and available for meetings, you need to be there, too. In spite of spread-out hotels and sometime deathly slow traffic on the Strip, you can still have five to eight meetings a day out there and still make a full slate of parties at night.
Agencies investing in show. We are now seeing the largest marketing services companies making big investments in helping their clients understand and get the most out of CES. None was more visible -- and probably more successful this year -- than Publicis and its Vivaki subsidiary. Maurice Levy brought 500 of his clients from around the world to the show and provided them with end-to-end curation, even taking a page out of the venture capital world and creating a speed-dating event where their clients got to meet more than a dozen different ad tech start-ups. Of course, folks like Group M’s Irwin Gotlieb and media economist Jack Myers were leading floor tours, as they have for years.
Content. There was quite a bit of big-stage and small-stage ad industry content apart from the main CES programming. Medialink’s Michael Kassan led a couple of great panels. Ad Age had an afternoon of speakers from hot tech and entertainment companies, with folks like Activision’s Eric Hirshberg, formerly of Deutsch, talking about what it's like to be a creative and run a substantial game publishing company.
Food. Virtually every major chef in the world now has a restaurant (or several) in Las Vegas. The ad industry likes food -- and the city provides it. Plus, you had folks like Scripps Networks, home of The Food Network, offering up awesome food in their hospitality tent right across from the main entrance to the Convention Center.
Parties. It's Las Vegas. Starting with the amazing Medialink party on Monday night, where more than 1,200 media and ad folks showed up, to the Mediabrands/UM party the next night, to Jack Myers the following and IPG the next, the week was full of parties.
Fear. Maybe one of the biggest reasons the ad industry was there was fear of being left out. There’s not an ad or media exec today who isn’t intensely aware that their world is fast becoming digital -- that digital-savvy folks will soon be running their shops -- and they don’t want to lose by missing out. Sort of like Tad Allagash in “Bright Lights, Big City,” many of us are always afraid that no matter where we are, there’s some other place that’s more happening.
What do you think? What is driving the ad industry’s love affair with CES?