Five Takeaways From CES

Here's What You Missed in Vegas

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The new year kicked off once again with the Consumer Electronics Show, where more than 200,000 attendees descended on Las Vegas to walk through 2.5 million square feet of trade show space spread among eight locations. Notably absent this year were any huge announcements, but that didn't stop marketers and agencies from prowling the show floors and conference rooms of Sin City to glimpse the future beyond drones and 4K TVs.

General Motors President Dan Ammann (center) with Lyft Inc. co-founders John Zimmer (right) and Logan Green.
General Motors President Dan Ammann (center) with Lyft Inc. co-founders John Zimmer (right) and Logan Green. Credit: Courtesy GM

Connected cars
CES has seen more automakers join the confab in the last few years, and this year was no exception. Automakers and tech companies collaborate on everything from navigation systems and dashboards to more ambitious projects like self-driving cars. On Monday, General Motors said it was investing $500 million in Lyft, with the eventual goal of building self-driving taxis. AT&T, which last year announced a deal with Subaru, revealed an initiative dubbed Ford Sync Connect, which aims to connect car owners with their vehicles from anywhere through the built-in AT&T network. Users will be able to unlock doors, check fuel level, locate a parked vehicle and more.

Wearable, IoT and all that data
Sure, wearables can count your steps, tell you where you are and monitor your sleep. But the endgame is to create a connected environment where everything is happening in the background, out of the consumer's mind. Think of a patch or implanted chip rather than a bracelet. And think of the implications, especially for healthcare marketers. The major hurdles for wide Internet of Things adoption, aside from the fact that many consumers would still find setting up a smart home confusing, are concerns over security and data privacy. Several companies called security a priority but didn't go into detail about how they would alleviate consumer concerns.

Then again, consumers probably won't be as concerned when confronted with some of the more gee-whiz announcements, like the partnership between Under Armour and IBM's Watson on Under Armour's HealthBox product. Meanwhile, Spalding partnered with ShotTracker to create a basketball with an integrated, well, tracker.

Companies like Panasonic, Samsung, LG and Whirlpool all debuted their latest offerings for the connected home. Unilever's Keith Weed, during an interview on the show floor, painted a picture of a smart fridge communicating with a smart car that happened to be driving by a store that could then alert you that Ben & Jerry's (which you happened to be low on) was on sale.

What's the hub, bub
If smart cars and connected homes are becoming a reality, the question then becomes, how do consumers control it all? GroupM Global Chairman Irwin Gotlieb, who once again this year held his famed show floor tours, noted that some companies may push appliances like the refrigerator or even TVs as the hub of the connected life. But "who the hell needs to run to their refrigerator to turn on a light?" he asked. And though he said, "Your car is going to become your most powerful mobile device," he firmly added, "Your phone is going to be your smart hub." But the smart players are going to go with open source, Mr. Gotlieb said, because consumers aren't going to want to make car and home decisions based on an exclusive operating system.

CES is the second Cannes
A number of agency executives noted that CES has become what Cannes is now: a global event that marketers and agency people attend, but sometimes they don't even make it to any panels or exhibits. Instead, they use the event as a setting for major meetings with top worldwide executives to refine plans for the coming year. Unilever's Mr. Weed agreed and pointed out that CES at the start of the year and Cannes halfway into it is near-perfect scheduling.

Vertical video is here
The agency world has been talking about vertical video -- the video format that Snapchat, for instance, uses -- for some time now, but this year at CES, some agency executives noted that companies like Twitter, Facebook and Yahoo were all showing up to meetings with vertical video to show, something that wasn't done universally at last year's event. One exec noted that some of the companies even flipped TV monitors vertically to mimic the way most of us consume video now on our mobile phones. This proves what most of us already knew: The world really is moving to a mobile-first way of life. Even if some marketers had been reluctant or slow to adapt to a mobile-first mind-set, it appears as though this year, they aren't going to have a choice and will need to shoot much more content vertically.

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