What You Missed at Asia's First CES

Takeaways from the Inaugural Consumer Electronics Show in Shanghai

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Twitter's Shailesh Rao at CES Asia.
Twitter's Shailesh Rao at CES Asia.

Asia's first-ever Consumer Electronics Show had Chinese-made drones, a self-driving concept car from Audi and a robot that does the cooking. (The crowd favorite from Moley Robotics was basically two disembodied mechanical arms; it won over visitors by whipping up crab bisque.)

With about 200 exhibitors and 20,000 pre-registrants, the event in Shanghai was small compared to the longstanding CES in Las Vegas, where there were 3,600 exhibitors and 176,676 attendees in January. But the potential is big, and advertising, marketing and tech execs turned out to curate tours for clients, speak on panels and schedule meetings, just like in Vegas. As the event wraps up Wednesday, here are some highlights so far.

Twitter's surreal pitch to Chinese advertisers

Like Google and Facebook, Twitter is blocked in mainland China, a victim of the government's Great Firewall. Despite that huge setback, all three of those companies are wooing Chinese companies that want to go global, selling them ad space to target consumers outside China.

Those pitches usually happen in private, but Twitter exec Shailesh Rao took the message to the main stage at CES, giving some clues about the strangeness of marketing Twitter to clients in a country where it's mostly off-limits.

Because few people in China have used the platform, Twitter's VP for Asia Pacific, Latin America and emerging markets had to explain exactly what Twitter is (to retweet, he explained, means someone "sees a message on Twitter, loves it, and believes in it so much that they forward it on to their audience.") China's censorship is obviously a delicate subject, and Mr. Rao made no mention of it onstage.

Agencies vs. gadget makers

At CES in Las Vegas, there's a venue for agencies and brand marketers called C Space. But at CES Asia, OMD and Dentsu Aegis Network had big, eye-catching booths right on the main floor -- alongside the robots, wearables and drones -- to display the tech solutions they can offer clients. OMD showed unusual outdoor offers, like a screen that reflects people in front of it, adding a digital dancing girl to the scene. It also hosted talks in its big red cube, including one on programmatic buying.

Dentsu Aegis debuted a digitized paper that can light up, powered by printed electric circuits and flat sensors, and that could have applications for posters, packaging or print publications. People waited in line to test a headset that uses brainwave signal analysis to measure someone's interest, enjoyment, stress, concentration or drowsiness while looking at different images (bugs, sushi, Angelina Jolie.)

Cars, cars, cars

Audi used CES Asia to show off its its Audi R8 e-tron concept car, which uses self-driving technology. Daimler announced that its Mercedes-Benz cars in China would be equipped with software from Chinese internet giant Baidu, letting them hook up their smartphones to connect to the internet and access entertainment and information. Ford and Lincoln were among carmakers with booths.

Cars took up proportionally more space at CES in Shanghai than in Las Vegas, said Lori H. Schwartz, managing partner of StoryTech, who gave a presentation on tech trends in Twitter's conference suite. "It's a reflection of the incredible size of the Chinese market," she said.

China has been the world's largest car market for several years. The swelling number of vehicles on the roads has brought changes for brands (the number of McDonald's drive-thrus increased tenfold between 2008 and 2014) and the ad industry in general (GroupM forecast that because of the car boom, ad spending on radio in China will increase 3.4% this year.) Connected car technology also promises to be big business for Baidu, which has the world's greatest share of online ad revenue after Google and Facebook. Like Google, it uses its ad dollars to fund research and tech innovation.

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