The Future of CES Belongs to Marketers

Electronics Are the Gateway to the Consumer

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Why should consumer-electronics brands have all the fun in Las Vegas at the annual Consumer Electronics Show? More marketing executives from other industries are showing up, and in the next couple of years, expect some to finally show up the electronics manufacturers and take over yet another stage.

It's not like marketing execs are invisible at CES. If you work for an agency or brand, you can easily spend the entire event talking to your peers. As brands are escorted by agency partners and courted by media partners, CES can wind up serving as a winter reunion party for Cannes.

Marketer attendance has indeed been increasing. According to the Attendee Audit Summary results from 2013 and 2014 that were released by the Consumer Electronics Association, which produces CES, 5,315 advertising and marketing professionals attended CES in 2014, an increase of nearly 9% from 2013. The number of chief marketing officers jumped from 402 to 447 over that span, so while that's only 0.44% of attendees, it's an increase of 11%. With all these marketers attending, when will CES become the show where partnerships are announced and campaigns revealed?

The marketer takeover is overdue. A handful of senior marketers typically land keynote slots and typically talk about why CES matters to them. This year, there will be more brands on stage. For the first time, there will be a venue dubbed the C Space at the Aria hotel that's "the official CES destination for creative communicators, brand marketers, advertising agencies, digital publishers and social networks." Ironically, if it's too successful, C Space could wind up keeping marketers and other creative types miles away from the main event at the Las Vegas Convention Center and other venues. The last thing marketers need is another echo chamber.

Should non-electronics brands attempt to break through at CES, which says 20,000 new products get announced there? On one hand, it sounds crazy to even attempt to do so, given the noise. Yet marketing professionals are already there, trying to make sense of the noise. And it's important to remember why they go there in the first place.

CES, at its core, isn't a show about electronics. It's a show about time. Products unveiled there reflect bets on how people will spend their time. Much of the time people spend is consuming media, so there are televisions and mobile phones and tablets. A lot of time is spent in transit, predominantly in cars, so cars have a big presence at CES, and it's especially fitting since cars are also where people consume a lot of media (radio for drivers and mobile for passengers). Some technologies are for when people spend time at work, hence showcases of industrial devices for B2B purposes.

Marketers understand time. In the age of radio and TV, it's what they bought, and marketers are all the more obsessed with understanding how people spend time across various media. Now marketers tend to buy audiences instead, and reaching audiences wherever they are spending their time, rather than running ads at times people may happen to tune in. Whatever marketers are buying, the electronics are often the gateway to the consumer, and there's one show that celebrates that. Along with using CES for meetings, learning, and talking, why not make CES a show for action?

Some brands have dabbled with more active involvement. Reese's launched its Minis at CES 2011, calling them "state of the art in candy." The company won points by giving out free samples in the middle of the convention center, but it missed an opportunity to connect the product to CES. Tory Burch stood out in 2014 in a more relevant way, announcing a partnership to design accessories for Fitbit. While Coca-Cola partner Misfit Wearables didn't launch the Shine and Flash devices in Coca-Cola red at CES, Coke credits CES 2013 for inspiring the collaboration, so the beverage brand can at least show how CES leads to real business opportunities.

Partnerships present the greatest opportunity. Even if just a handful of the 20,000 product launches were done in conjunction with non-electronics brands, that would change the dynamic of CES. When all of CES is the official destination for creative communicators, then brands will have finally overtaken another show.