CES. Where Marketers Can Check Their Blindspot.

Here I am. Cramped on United 1179 en route to Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show. Again. For the 18th time. Really.

My first time at CES was way back in 1996 when I worked on the re-launch of Samsung Electronics in the U.S. At the time, we were marketing microwave ovens, “boom boxes,” VCRs and large screen CRT televisions. Times have changed, and so has CES.

Over the course of my career, I’ve been to a lot of trade shows, but there is nothing quite like the behemoth of CES. Every year, it’s bigger, badder and more crowded.

CES started as a simple, necessary idea to bring together manufacturers, customers and the people in between (press, distributors, sales/field forces, etc). It was held in New York City back in June of 1967. According to Wikipedia, there were 17,500 attendees and 100 exhibitors. Last year, there were over 170,000 attendees and 3,600 exhibitors in Las Vegas.

There are more exhibitors than ever. There are the players you expect, the copycats and the “barnacles on the boats of innovation” that will manufacture the cheapest accessory for your favorite smartphone (last year we counted at least 15 selfie sticks). We have seen foreign manufacturers try to develop their own brands and we have the “Kickstarter darlings”, flush with funding, salivating to showcase with the “big boys.”

There are more buyers than before. While it’s easy to say that through e-commerce we have more retailers than ever, it’s also important to realize that consumer electronics are now part of our lifestyle. Take a moment and reflect on this. Finally, electronics are cool! The smartphone has become the most important product in people’s lives and it’s fueled a curiousity among consumers about “what’s next.” This phenomeniom opens up retail channels beyond Best Buy and Amazon. The buyers are now coming from everywhere. There will be buyers from clothing furniture and houseware stores (although in the early days of CES, furniture stores sold appliances so maybe that isn’t such a new idea), pharmacies, etc. Did you buy any phone cases from J.Crew over the holidays or maybe a drone at Urban Outfitters? Have you noticed the selfie sticks, case and portable batteries (pre-charged, naturally) in the checkout aisle at Walgreens? The fact is, we lead an electronic lifestyle and everyone wants to get in on this. Consumer electronics are cool! Really.

There are more attendees than before. This is the big trip up for most people when discussing CES. While the CTA will say that CES is limited to those “in the industry,” this is clearly not the case. CES has grown significantly over the last 10 years with all types of traditional outsiders including marketers.

We have creative agencies, media agencies, media publishers, ad tech providers and more. Why? Because wherever there is consumer attention, there will always be marketing. While this may not be good for “traffic flow,” if you’re a marketer, and in attendance, you’re in the right place. You belong here, and I’m going to tell you why.

As marketers we come to CES to see what might seize customer interest in the near to long future. Where there is consumer interest, there will eventually be a sizeable audience for that platform, product or service. And since we haven’t yet invented the ability to add a 25th hour to a day, attention has to come at the cost of something else. This is where CES has a profound effect on the future of monetized media platforms.

Here’s an example, A long time ago, Microsoft launched (and subsequently shut down) “Spot” platform. I don’t remember the exact specifications of the platform but it brought notifications to every day objects such as watches and household appliances. A few years into Spot, devices starting appearing at CES. One of my favorite products was a Melitta coffee maker which would display the weather while you were making coffee. My first reaction was “if people can get weather while they are making coffee, who’s going to check the Weather Channel for the weather? Seems like this would take less time and get right to the point.” At the time I had clients that invested significant budgets against the habitual behavior of turning on the television to check the weather for the day. This was “one lost impression.”

The platform never really took off (for a variety of reasons that seem all too familar today, but that’s another conversation), but the web did and people stopped relying on the radio, television and newspapers for the weather. Then apps came along to move our attention away from the web. And if you have an Android phone, you pretty much get the weather on your home screen so you might not even have a weather app and you’ll never get an ad when you check the weather, so marketers aren’t going to find you when you check the weather 7–15 times a week. Because of this evolution, agencies will eventually divest their investments to another habitual task (btw, I think DirecTV thought the same way back in 2014 when they were renegotiating their carriage deal with The Weather Company).

As a marketer, we always need to understand what happens when consumers turn their attention to new methods of content consumption and when they find new, direct routes to the content they want they will eventually bypass the known, traditional channels of reach.

CES gives you a chance to check your blindspots and see what’s coming. A good marketer would have looked at SPOT and that coffee maker and realized that this might not be “the” product, but this is representative of what is to come.

Welcome to CES and remember, no hoverboards.

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