What Happens in Vegas Matters for Marketers

CES Preview: Big-Name Attendees Make Clear Event Is Not Just for Nerds Anymore

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The attendee log for this week's Consumer Electronics Show reads like a cocktail-party invite list at the annual Association of National Advertisers conference.
This year, General Motor's Corp. CEO Rick Wagoner will be the first automaker to deliver a keynote at CES.
This year, General Motor's Corp. CEO Rick Wagoner will be the first automaker to deliver a keynote at CES.

Once a bastion of tech barons, consumer-electronics retailers and data-drive-hyping journalists, this year's show will also be brimming with marketers -- and we're talking not the marketing honchos at Sony or Samsung but those hailing from the likes of McDonald's, Nike , Wal-Mart, Frito-Lay, Unilever and Kraft .

"Clearly the effect digital media is having on companies everywhere is accelerating, and we want to get our arms around that and see beyond our nose -- three, four, five years out," said Andy Markowitz, director-digital marketing and media at Kraft Foods, who will be heading to the show for the first time. In four years, total digital-marketing spending will be more than $50 billion, according to Forrester Research.

This year, said Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, clients want to go and see the excitement for themselves.

"While I'm sure they will be overwhelmed [because] everyone gets that way, they will also see innovation firsthand," he dashed off in an e-mail. "And that's the best part about CES -- the innovation. It's the closest thing we have to what the World's Fair used to be."

Years down the pipeline
More than 140,000 people are expected to descend on the four-day event, which kicks off Jan. 6 in Las Vegas. It'll feature everything from portable power generators to mobile TV technologies to the biggest -- and smallest -- flat-panel screens. Many of the products unveiled won't hit store shelves for years -- or may never make it to the retail level. But it shouldn't be all that surprising that CES has turned into a marketing confab, given the increasing importance of technology in consumers' lives and shifting consumer behavior.

The event will also be heavy on auto marketers. Auto innovations are expected to be a major draw this year, and, for the first time, an automaker will deliver one of the five keynotes. General Motor's Corp. CEO Rick Wagoner will speak Tuesday afternoon (the others include Bill Gates, who will give his final one before official retirement; Intel's Paul Otellini; Comcast's Brian Roberts; and Panasonic's Toshihiro Sakamoto).
Intel's Paul Otellini will also deliver a keynote at CES this year.
Intel's Paul Otellini will also deliver a keynote at CES this year.

Jeff Minsky, director of Next at OMG Digital, said via e-mail: "There is absolutely a connection with the growing importance of digital marketing and media with the show as marketers recognize that these devices directly impact media consumption and in some cases provide new venues through which we can communicate with our customers/prospects."

Other agency execs expected to stroll the floor with clients en masse: BBDO New York CEO John Osborn, MRM CEO Reuben Hendell, Universal McCann CEO Nick Brien, Publicis New York CEO Gill Duff, Deutsch CEO Linda Sawyer, Lowe New York Chairman-Chief Creative Officer Mark Wnek. Several sessions of the official CES program are devoted to marketing and advertising. And given the importance of an ad-supported business model in a digital future, the larger Madison Avenue contingency this year is no surprise.

"When people talk about convergence in general, they seldom think about the importance of advertisers in the whole mix," said Shahid Khan, principal at IBB Consulting, whose clients Sony Pictures Television, Comcast and Time Warner Cable are just the type of companies looking to tap marketers. "The majority of the revenue in anything around convergence, be it an HD network or broadband network or mobile play, the bulk of the revenue will come from advertisers."

Planning to Go? Here Are Some Tips

Some say the best way to attend the Consumer Electronics Show is online. That's why we're sacrificing our sleep to scour the floor for the coolest innovations with the most potential to change the way marketers reach consumers. Check out AdAge.com for video reports from the floor, recaps of keynotes and video interviews with the emerging-technology experts tasked with dividing the bona fide from the bogus.

And, if you are indeed going, heed these tips:

WALK THE SHOW FLOOR. This was the No. 1 piece of advice from nearly every grizzled CES veteran interviewed for this piece. Unlike other conventions or conference, where the programming is the real draw and the tradeshow an oft-avoided afterthought, the floor at CES is where all the action is. Take your time checking out all the new devices and platforms.

GOT SNEAKERS? The show floor comprises 1.7 million net square feet of space -- that's 35 football fields.

TAKE THE SHUTTLE. By not waiting in line for a cab after you arrive at McCarran Airport, you'll save yourself 45 minutes to two hours. When you're at CES, take the free shuttle service (check the schedule -- it doesn't run all day at many hotels) or the monorail. More than 140,000 people descend on the show, and that's a lot of bodies waiting in line at the cabstand.

SCHEDULE WELL. Give yourself one hour to get to any meeting or appointment.

HUNGRY? Unless you plan to order at a counter, get to a restaurant early. You're probably too late to make reservations at most of the finer Las Vegas eateries.

DON'T WANDER INTO THE WRONG CONVENTION HALL. Or do -- but you'll have to buy a separate ticket. The Adult Video Convention begins Jan. 9 next door to CES.

THINKING ABOUT GOING NEXT YEAR? Set an Outlook reminder now to start planning that visit in September -- unless you want to stay at Excalibur, one of the few hotels that still has availability for this year's event.
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