Why Marketing's Big Guns Are Winging Their Way to Las Vegas

Once-Wonky Consumer Electronics Show Draws Advertisers Scouting for Next Big Thing

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The slow collision and then merger of media and tech has been underway for more than a decade, and it's playing out again at the Consumer Electronics Show, which has become a required stop for media, agencies and, increasingly, brands.

For tech brands such as Intel, Microsoft, Sony and Samsung, this is the Super Bowl, but non-tech marketers are playing too, in part because, well, there really is no such thing as a non-tech brand.

Coca-Cola, for example, decided CES, held this year from Jan. 6-9, was so critical to its future that it moved its annual global marketing meeting out of Atlanta for the first time to Las Vegas so that its execs can pick through technologies and meet with potential partners.

The company is committed to doubling sales by 2020, which will mean reaching young people through the devices they use -- namely, mobile phones. There are, after all, more than 5 billion mobile phones around the globe, but only 1.5 billion TVs. "Mobile is the most-critical medium of the next decade, especially for a company as scaled and diverse as ours," said Wendy Clark, senior VP-marketing at Coke. "We've got to get much better equipped on how to use mobile in our business."

CES is giving a big nod to marketing with a keynote panel with Coca-Cola CMO Joe Tripodi and two ad-holding company chiefs, Interpublic Group of Cos. CEO Michael Roth and WPP CEO Martin Sorrell, along with Akamai CEO David Kenny, moderated by MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan. But Coke is just one of the many non-tech brands that have been lured into the CES orbit, including Ford, Audi, Mercedes, Timex, Colgate-Palmolive, Unilever and E-Trade.

That's in addition to a growing coterie of media and entertainment execs who find themselves in the driver's seat in a world of content-starved set-top boxes, apps, tablets, readers, phones and other mobile devices. Media has fully colonized the geek-fest, and attendees this year include Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch and Huffington Post impresario Arianna Huffington, who is interviewing Netflix CEO Reed Hastings on stage. "Like everyone, I'm childishly excited about seeing all the latest gadgets and tech developments at CES, and getting the chance to talk with the people who are pushing the technology envelope," she told Ad Age.

CES became important to CBS after its 2008 acquisition of CNet. Given AOL's recent acquisition of popular blog TechCrunch, as well as its owned-and-operated property Engadget, AOL's "product" at CES is nothing less than its well-read up-to-the-second posts, especially by the industry in attendance.

AOL and Yahoo typically use the event to kick off conversations with major marketers at the beginning of the year. Head of AOL Ventures and Local Jon Brod said he goes into CES with a fresh eye. "I don't go in looking for something in particular," he said. "I'm hoping to just get a sense of what's going on."

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Contributing: Andrew Hampp, Edmund Lee

What to Expect at CES 2011

TABLETS, TABLETS AND MORE TABLETS. Last year's CES brought a coterie of monochrome Kindle-challenger e-readers -- just months before Apple blew apart the market with its iPad. Now just about every electronics manufacturer has a tablet computer arriving, many powered by Google's Android operating system. Samsung's Galaxy Tablet is here, while HP, Microsoft and Research in Motion will attempt to prove they can catch up.

CHEAPER SMARTPHONES. Handset manufacturers and wireless carriers will try to expand the market from the high-end iPhone, Android and BlackBerry user to the mass market. "People who can afford to spend $300 for a smartphone have one already," said Forrester analyst Charles Colvin. "This is the next frontier for the carriers and equipment manufacturers."

MORE TV APPS. Last year apps turned the TV from a dumb box into an interactive platform and launched a platform war with Samsung, Google, Apple and Intel vying to set the standard for TV-based applications and commerce. This year, Yahoo is expected to announce an upgrade to its TV widgets with new deals with media companies, according to someone familiar with the situation. And what seems like a wide-open market has actually opened up a chasm between content haves, like Netflix and Apple , and have-nots, like Google TV.

3-D VIDEO. A lack of compelling content may be the reason 3-D TV sales haven't matched hype. Jen Soch, VP-activation director for advanced TV at MediaVest , thinks the focus will instead shift to 3-D software and video recorders. "It's not going to be a game changer, but we'll see an increase in 3-D cameras and camcorders, pushing a little bit more personalized YouTube-like content," Ms. Soch said. "I still think the glasses are a problem, and the TVs are too expensive."

SOCIAL TV. It gained traction earlier this year through check-in apps such as GetGlue, and the Discovery Channel will be debuting a new iPad app in February that will arrive tricked out with live-chat features to encourage chatter among fans of shows such as "Mythbusters."

"Co-viewing is something clearly on the rise, and the overlapping of TV and the internet browsing is going up and up," said Kelly Day, Discovery's exec VP-digital media.

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