CES 2015: What does it mean for marketers?

The strong showing from agencies at the event embodies how important technology has become to marketing -- and vice versa.

Google Cardboard: VR trends were on the agenda at CES 2015
Google Cardboard: VR trends were on the agenda at CES 2015

CES International is over for another year, phew. Now it’s time to take a deep breath of non-conditioned air and reflect on what all of that technological attention grabbing from The Greatest Gadget Show on Earth really means.

Campaign US spent several days on the ground, pounding the carpets and getting lost in maze-like hotel casinos, to distil a bit of the brightly lit madness into meaning for marketers. Fresh from The Strip, here are some of CES International’s key themes.

Adland does Vegas

CES has become like Cannes, minus the rosé, observed Meredith Kopit Levien, the executive vice president, advertising at the New York Times, as little adland pitched up at Las Vegas for the week.

As well as the usual networking, there were many agency-led events and panel discussions and a marketing track at the main conference. This strong showing is symbolic of how important technology has become to marketing – and vice versa – as consumer behaviour changes at tremendous speed.

The collision of marketing and technology has also disrupted agency models and brought people from disparate corners of the industry – as well as new players – to the same table.

"Technology inspires ideas and ideas inspire technology, but it is hard to navigate that process and get deep tech specialists collaborating with deep creative curators," said Ann Wixley, the creative director at OMD UK, speaking on a panel at the event.

While there is certainly a need for better collaboration, it is no easy task, agreed Ben Malbon, the director of creative partnerships at Google. "Those that will partake in the future are those that can partner well.

"This means recognising what you can and can’t do ... understanding where the cross-fertilisation of skills and backgrounds lies. Figuring out how to get people working effectively together effectively is really, really hard," he said.

Writing about the chasm between the digital folk and brand marketers for Campaign, Juuso Myllyrinne, the global strategy director of TBWA\Digital Arts Network, pointed out, "maybe in the near future we’ll all just be marketers."

Digital narcissism

Apparently at CES there isn’t such a thing as "selfie fatigue", or at least the exhibitors didn’t think so when they planned their marketing for the event. The showroom floors were filled with prompts to "take a selfie" and share the experience on social networks.

In an attempt to recreate the famous Ellen DeGeneres Oscar selfie, drone-camera firm Nixie took a flying image on stage at the Intel keynote, which was then shared on social media.

Its founders pitched the device as a camera that "frees" you up to enjoy the moment, by relinquishing you from the worry of not capturing it. This left me pondering today’s obsession with having to capture, store and share every moment of our lives, and worst still, sticking our mugs on these moments.

Some call this behaviour, which is byproduct of smartphone technology, narcissistic. And brands are playing along. This issue formed an interesting debate among panellists at an OMD event on technology and creativity.

Miha Mikek, the chief executive of mobile advertising firm Celtra, described these selfie marketing campaigns as "mousetraps" and a result of brands frantically trying to engage with consumers on social networks.

Shawn Amos, the founder and chief executive of content studio Freshwire, said brands and consumers should be thinking about how they can create shared value points, rather than a "continuation of the self constantly."

Overall, there was a consensus that this craze, which is for the most part generational, will level out. Time to ditch the selfie sticks then.

Wearables move beyond the smartwatch

At CES there were wearables everywhere. The technology is getting cheaper, the chips are getting smaller and the battery life longer. Yet consumer adoption has been slow, with many devices abandoned months after purchase.

It feels as though most use cases for wearables on the market aren’t all that useful beyond the fitness… yet.

Many pundits reckon Apple Watch will be the saving grace for the wearables market, pivoting them into the mainstream. However, a panel I attended was less convinced that the "cellphone on the wrist" is going to be the long-awaited turning point for wearables.

Trying to "make tech wearable" is the wrong approach, argued Mike Bell, the vice president and general manager of Intel’s new devices group, during this panel discussion. Rather, manufacturers should be making "wearable things technology-enabled".

In doing so, the floor is opened to fashion and apparel brands, many of which have already been striking partnerships with tech companies. And this would also help solve wearables’ chronic problem – making them look stylish.

The ubiquitous image of the smartwatch, which is so often associated with the category, isn’t the only place market is heading, argued the panel. Instead, look to flexible and seamless wearables that can be embedded in clothing or stuck on skin – light and unnoticeable, almost like having a tattoo.

There were also several wearables being showcased to help visually impaired people.

The connected home, connected-everything

A roundup of CES 2015 wouldn’t be complete without including the connected home. It was such a hot topic this year and there were so many exhibitors showcasing what the connected home of the future would look like, at times I wondered if I had stumbled into an Ikea store.

Connected washing machines, fridges, dryers, weighing scales for making the perfect muffins... The list was endless, and at the heart of it all is the cellphone, which will become the command and control centre of our homes.

But what do all these smart objects promise marketers? As TBWA\Digital Arts Network’s Myllyrinne pointed out in his daily diary for Campaign US, it is cheaper than ever to create prototypes for connected products, enabling brands and agencies to experiment.

However, a trap for marketers is that the actual production of the hardware will be difficult to execute. "That’s one thing companies should be looking for at events like CES: partners for the long haul, not just gimmicks."

While Apple doesn’t come to the annual tech party, as I returned to New York from Vegas, I was reminded of its role in the connected home with its current outdoor campaign for Nest, suggesting this year the heat will rise in the connected-home market.

Everything else…

Robots, virtual reality, drones, 3D sensors, 3D printing, mobile commerce, wireless self-driving cars are among some of the other consumer technologies on show, set to disrupt this year's marketing landscape.

Predictions for next year

Artificial intelligence becomes so advanced, robots hit Vegas’ casinos, leaving the tellers out-of-pocket and bemused.

Fitbit partners with CES to track attendees’ steps walked; everybody smashes their daily quota, but points are deducted for the number of escalators ridden.

Sarah Shearman is the launch editor of Campaign US. This round up was first posted on Campaign.com.