Did brand marketers beyond the technology vertical dominate this year's Consumer Electronics Show? Not exactly. But there were a number of brands, often surprising ones, which were more visible and exciting than the electronics mainstays. This is a sign of what's to come.
Earlier in the week, I predicted that a greater variety of brands would soon take over the convention. The prediction proved prescient, but not entirely to the credit of brand marketers. It was a lackluster year for product launches, as the show featured incremental improvements in a range of categories such as 3D printers, autos, appliances, connected devices, drones, robotics, TVs and wearables. One announcement that keeps coming to mind is that LG found a way to put a smaller washing machine inside a washing machine. It's reminiscent of the Onion article, "New Starbucks Opens in Rest Room of Existing Starbucks."
For other brands, it's akin to when the Super Bowl itself is terrible and the commercials are pretty good. After a while, no one is talking about the game at all, so the commercials are all anyone's talking about. This year, with a dearth of big news coming out of the convention center, marketers can focus on what their peers from retail, packaged goods and other verticals are doing.
Here are five brands that exemplify the new wave of marketers outshining electronics and technology companies at CES:
1. Under Armour. Building on its success after acquiring MapMyFitness in 2013 for $150 million and continuing to grow its audience, Under Armour unveiled the app UA Record, a hybrid health tracker and fitness-themed social network. After growing MapMyFitness from about 20 million to 30 million users, the apparel company has a goal of hitting 100 million users in the next few years. Under Armour is acting far more like a tech company, with its central and sizeable (though not massive) exhibit space and a major product launch that builds on a previous software acquisition. The only thing missing was a loud, overproduced, awkward keynote that goes viral on Twitter for all the wrong reasons. There's always next year.
2. Lowe's. Lowe's has become a staple at CES. In previous years, it has focused on its Iris Home Management System, which ensures that various connected devices like smart security systems and plant monitors can easily connect with each other. This year, Lowe's showed off its Holoroom, both in its present and future stages. Presently, the Holoroom lets customers customize rooms on a tablet and, using augmented reality, visualize how changes will look in a physical space. The next iteration uses Oculus Rift to add a more immersive virtual reality experience.
3. Swarovski. Misfit Wearables, which counts Coca-Cola as a backer, announced a partnership with Swarovski to release a line of crystal-studded health-tracker bracelets and pendants, with prices ranging from under $100 to a set costing $250. Here, the brand adds more credibility and style to the minimalist Misfit Flash and Shine lines of sensors. I only hope Misfit makes the products more durable as well. The band to my Flash cracked right before CES, and the sensor stopped working during the show -- after about a week of use.
5. Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Following a partnership announced previously (as was the case with Hershey and 3D Systems), Makerbot unveiled the Martha Stewart Trellis Collection in its digital store. Designs for coasters, napkin rings, LED votive holders and place-card holders are on sale for 99 cents each or $2.99 for the set. There's enough value from publicity to justify this kind of partnership for a brand like Martha Stewart. In a few years, the test will be whether this leads to a new source of revenue for the parties involved.
Brands don't have to be so visible to get value out of CES. Most were busy meeting with their colleagues, agency partners, media companies and startups, along with joining tours of the convention and attending talks. That kind of learning and dealmaking is part of the experience for consumer electronics brands, too. Yet with the new products and partnerships from so many different brands, these pioneers are proving that the CES spotlight is bright enough for any brand bold enough to steal it.