"That's Cool, But What Does It Mean For Marketing?"

LAS VEGAS -- This is the refrain of agency grunts as we take our hungover strolls among the pleated pant masses and endless aisles of tech on display here. We tend to be an egocentric bunch in advertising and are sometimes surprised when we realize that CES is not actually built for us. Believe it or not, people are mostly here to sell technology products to retailers and suppliers.

Yet we dutifully learn everything there is to know about autonomous cars, as if it is central to our jobs as advertisers. When we chat at parties, we say things like, “that new Faraday electric car is amazing, really tipping the industry on its head with a modular design concept and a subscription-based business model” and “can you believe the processing capacity of that new Nvidia supercomputer? 24 trillion operations per second!”

That said, it is our job to know everything about culture. It’s up to us to figure out how to harness it and how to create engagement with our audiences by weaving our messages into the ever-changing fabric of culture. To that point, technology is a fundamental pillar of this culture that we must consider our business, partly because tech inherently disrupts content distribution, which in turn disrupts advertising distribution. Perhaps more importantly, however, because it is a passion point no different than music, sports, or fashion.

For almost all of us at some point during CES, there comes the moment of clarity, the sudden realization during Lady GaGa’s rendition of the classics at the big MediaLink executive dinner, that autonomous cars ARE connected to advertising. Gaga belts out “Start spreading the news” and our inner monologues drift as we wonder to ourselves, “Why is Google in the self-driving car game? Maybe it is because the millions of hours we spend driving, we aren’t using search engines or watching video? They must be lobbying Congress now to make it legal to look at your phone while in the driver's seat of a self-driving car.” Then Gaga croons: “I get no kicks from champagne!”

On day two, groggier and more bewildered than ever, we stand listlessly in another taxi line, pondering autonomous selfie drones and refrigerators that promise to order our groceries for us. Sure, Uber and Lyft are operating in Vegas but if we try and call either, we’d better be prepared for an aggressive newbie driver to call us relentlessly and demand that we run around the parking garage like maniacs so he can beat the traffic. But, while we wait in line and contemplate whether or not ads on smart TV’s are worth the effort, the guy in front of us shows his colleague an Instagram post about a new free floating hologram. “HOLOGRAM,” we exclaim in our own mind, “I heart holograms.” “There is definitely an experiential idea where we can use this new hologram tech,” we think. But is this find worth the trek to Sin City, the infamous transportation nightmares and the slogs through packed showrooms, especially since we technically found out about holograms on Instagram anyway? Probably not.

However, we are here for more than just the tech that can be read about anyway on Mashable, Techcrunch, PSFK, Adweek, Adage, Mediapost (wink!), Wired, the New York Times, USA Today, The Verge, Buzzfeed, Uproxx, Reddit, Venturebeat, and Variety. OK I’ll stop.  We get it. We are also here for the meetings, meetings, meetings.

For the ad world, Vegas is the Cannes of the US, however instead of coastal French sophistication and elegance, we get the world’s highest grossing Fatburger franchise and Wheel of Fortune slots. But like Cannes, this is a three day window where we can break bread with our clients, sit down with the biggest media companies in the world, chat with up-and-coming media companies, poach talent from other agencies, try to stop our own talent from being poached, meet new clients, and spread the good word about how we are reinventing the agency business.

This part of the CES journey happens nowhere near the conference center but at nightclubs and restaurants all over the city. We RSVP’d to the iHeart party, the Twitter party, the Roku party, the CNET party, the Wired Cafe, the MediaLink parties, the Vox party, the PopSugar feminism party. (For some reason this has become the ultimate combination of the listicle and the article here.)

So CES is a lot of things to the advertising community. I am not sure we can quantify what we get out of it but we seem to have mutually agreed upon its status as a “can’t miss” event. In the interest of ending on a utilitarian note, here are some of the things ad folks are talking about between stuffing hor d'oeuvres into our faces and sipping drinks:

“Did you hear twitter invested in a headphone company? I guess they are making another play at music.”

“Nikon’s launching a consumer camera that films 360 degree VR content in 4K. Looks like the 2016 VR explosion is also going to include UGC.”

“SyFy is making props and collectibles from their shows available in schematic form for 3D printing. Should we make 3D printed preroll so they have to print our branded product before the thing they actually want?”

“Did you see the selfie drone? Throw it in the air and it will aim the camera back at you and take a selfie. I think I prefer the drones that shoot missiles.”

“The newest thing in wearable is tracking your mental health instead of your physical health. I think I might be too neurotic for that. But maybe that’s the point!”

So if you didn’t make it to CES this year, sure, you can read all about it everywhere, but there is something to be said about being here in the middle of it all. For all the speculation about 1,000 horsepower self-driving supercars (that might also double as submarines, I’m honestly not sure), and all the discussion about which reality will happen first, virtual or augmented, and all the sincere wondering about whether or not we’re comfortable with the idea that our fridge can talk to our toaster and remind our autonomous vacuum cleaner to shut off its HD camera, there is something about being surrounded by people who are constantly innovating and trying to redefine what is possible. Sure, we might not know whether that super microchip actually has the computing power of 150 macbook pros, but it’s in the spirit of the event that we can draw inspiration. Our business is constantly changing, and one of the driving forces behind those changes are these tech innovations, so perhaps we can derive some inspiration and some creative spark to bring back to our own shops. And it is just good business.

Besides, regardless of whether or not we’ll ever be able to place an ad on an autonomous laser-mounted 3D 4K UHD helicopter, I got to see Lady GaGa sing the classics. See you next year! Maybe your taxi will purposefully side swipe my Uber, which is also apparently a thing here in Vegas.
2 comments about ""That's Cool, But What Does It Mean For Marketing?"".
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  1. Alex Miller from ViaSat, January 8, 2016 at 5:51 p.m.

    Great piece, nice writing! Reminds me how little tech/advtertising writing I read has any zip or humor to it.

  2. john kottcamp from Tahzoo, January 8, 2016 at 6:08 p.m.

    I think the reason its hard to find the obvious connection to marketing is that the consumer is what is usually missing at the Consumer Electronics Show. The vendors, shows, demos... are all designed to help sell more stuff to consumers, which is after all the primary purpose of advertising.  But most of the time, there is little emphasis placed on solving a problem or providing a service that consumers already know they want help with.  CES is about providing solutions to problems nobody even knew they had.  I never knew I needed a drone to take a selfie.  If fact, it was just a couple of years ago I didn't know i needed to take selfies.

    So love CES for what it is, but don't confuse it with consumers, and that's the lesson for marketers.

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