CES 2018: Time to start spreading the news about tech beyond Vegas
A view from Rob Norman

CES 2018: Time to start spreading the news about tech beyond Vegas

As the ad industry prepares for its annual pilgrimage to the Consumer Electronics Show, the outgoing chief digital officer of Group M asks if CES should be putting on a travelling roadshow to reach a bigger audience.

A few years ago, I mentioned to a friend that a contender for the three most beautiful words in the English language were "leaving Las Vegas".

Unexpectedly, then, as a non-attendee at CES 2018 for the first time in a decade, I am overwhelmed with FOMO rather than relief.

I comfort myself with a question: What do the iPhone, Netflix, Amazon’s Kindle and Echo, the Facebook news feed, Instagram, AdWords, YouTube, SnapChat, Twitter and Google Home have in common?

And an even more comforting answer. All are technologies or services that have had, or may have a profound effect on the consumer media experience, marketing and advertising yet none was launched at the Consumer Electronics Show.

With apologies to fans of processors, OLED and smart refrigerators it’s possible that the last great device launch that changed media consumption, first shown at CES, was TiVO in 1999.

Yet undeterred, the annual migration is about to take place as the marketing industry prepares for the world’s only fully carpeted trekking vacation.

In an almost perfect mirror of June in Cannes, as sand gives way to acres of velvet pile, marketing will invade the home of tech as tech has invaded the beaches and bars of adland.

In both cases only a fraction of delegates allocate more than a fraction of their time spent in the show halls of either location.

Yet still they go and with good reason. At CES a host of agencies, consultants, and others create value and, sometimes, competitive advantage through curation and explanation that are united by a common theme "behold the future state of the consumer, their homes, their connected lives and selves".

The value is supplemented by the bi-annual "top to tops" that act as the scoreboard of digital transformation.

In truth, however, most value accrues from being present in an environment where no one is looking back hoping that somehow the world will be as it used to be.

This happens rarely and should be treasured. Sadly, though, in times of scarcity less people get to attend, so maybe it’s time to bring the best of CES and its look forward beyond the Strip.  

We need a mechanism to create greater, and better distributed value that touches more people at a small incremental cost.

Perhaps the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which organises CES, might collaborate to extend their brand in partnership with the trade associations that represent advertisers, agencies, publishers and the ad tech community.

We already have a model. Advertising Week is a fixture of the New York and London calendar these days - events that are inclusive, fabulously well attended and inexpensive to the practitioner, funded by willing sponsors and covered by a trade media that serves the agenda of all our stakeholders.

It’s notable that prospective sponsors like Google and Facebook, to say nothing of Amazon, Snap, NBCU, Disney and Twitter barely have show-floor presence in Vegas.

So, let’s add "48 hours from CES" to the New York and London calendars in fixed and virtual venues and use technology, collaboration tools, mixed reality and live streaming of the very best of CES with commentary from our industry’s tech leaders.

It would be equally valuable in the Middle East and Asia when the CTA holds CES Asia in Shanghai in June.

We would get all the content, all the curation, for ten times the people, for one tenth of the money and little incremental increase in our industry’s carbon footprint.

It may even create an environment in which marketers and their partners get the first look at the products and services that will shape future consumer media experiences. The chips can stay in Vegas.

Rob Norman is chief digital officer of Group M