Brand Meaning Through Technological Experiences

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The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas never fails to impress with an array of innovative and engaging new tech, and 2018’s show was no exception. Many blogs will give you a rundown on the latest technologies and gadgets, but the brands are even more intriguing. A few brands were able to impact the show without even mentioning their actual products.  They exhibited a visceral experience or sold an idea that, if nothing else, was memorable far beyond the products they sell.  Other brands created experiences outside of the showroom floor; instead, they turned the city of Las Vegas itself into a show of brand power.

Below are examples of brands that did the unexpected and stole the show far beyond the technology they sell:


Intel took to the city streets and created a nighttime drone show over the world-famous Bellagio. The two hundred and fifty Shooting Star Drones blended seamlessly into the night sky and disappeared beyond the twinkling blue and white lights. The stunning display was choreographed to the music and the enchanting “dancing water” of the fountains. The performance amused and delighted as it continued with a fireworks display put on by UFOs. The show was nothing short of visually arresting while also technologically inclined.

As a brand, this display said to the world “we are the only ones that could orchestrate such a complex technological feat because we’re Intel,” (and that’s not bad when you’re known for being the smartest chips inside of the most intelligent machines.) Sure, they could have created an intergalactic display inside the showroom, but it would not have had the same impact. Millions of people stop in front of this hotel to take in the water show annually, showing the power of Intel to far more than merely the excited techie with a pass to CES. Nighttime visitors to the city were able to marvel at a truly elevated experience, while Intel reinforced their position in the market. Their product wasn’t shouted from the rooftops, but its abilities were certainly championed.


En route to the trade show, I found myself face-to-face with an angry mob shouting, “Immortality is immoral,” and the company they were blaming for heinous acts was “Psychasec.” I paid it no mind and continued on to the conference.

Once inside the show, I came across a booth hosting none other than Psychasec, the company I had just witnessed a protest about. Their booth was something of a biotech lab; showcasing two good-looking, lifelike bodies in glass cases. The attractive attending workers wore white dresses which may have at one point in time been a typical lab coat. The product they were selling was intriguing and makes sense for a tech show. They boasted they could take a person’s conscious and place it in a newer, sexier body. Kind of like the Steve Martin’s movie, “The Man with Two Brains,” except now I’m dating myself. Or perhaps Self/Less – last summer’s blockbuster where Ryan Reynolds supplied the newer and sexier body – is a more adequate example when speaking to tech lovers. The bodies were realistic, down to the certain creep-factor that came with knowing the company’s purpose, and presumably the bodies were merely dummies.

The fun came when it was revealed that the company and protest were no more than a charade to promote Netflix’s newest show, Altered Carbon, a show set in the distant future when such medical and scientific marvels are available. The brilliance of this two-fold branding ploy was the stage and the vehicle Netflix used to craft their message. They drew fascintation and sparked curiosity both inside and outside of the show, showcasing a futuristic tale of a technology which could believably be part of the future of human existence. Roughly over one hundred and eighty-four thousand members of the show’s ideal demographic was in attendance, and this stunt created a genuine buzz which resonated widely. Such branding and dramatics not only showcased Netflix’s understanding of their audience but also tickled the imagination for new types of biological technology. What more could you ask for?


In the auto category where the smart car was king at this year’s show, KIA decided to pivot and talk less about the tactical techs and specs of their cars (both current and conceptual), but more about how these new technologies will solve real-life issues once smart car technology is ubiquitous.  Their #BoundlessForAll campaign was about the user, not the vehicle, and about how KIA wanted to change the way we travel.

Want to entertain a lonely puppy at home? Activate a robot at home through the car. Want to video chat while you drive? No problem, let the automated steering and route guidance take the wheel so you can connect—something that is infinitely hard to do with today’s technology. Through sensor technology in and around cities, KIA’s Niro EV smart car uses this information to enhance the way we move around. For example, if a building is ablaze, this technology can divert traffic from the inferno, and at the same time, clear a path for emergency vehicles to get there quicker. The same genius tech can be used to move cars more efficiently through congested areas by timing traffic lights using real-time data and even help drivers find a parking space. KIA was able to tell the story of their new product by demonstrating how it appeals to the end user: you and me.

People love personalized products, and KIA’s campaign proved that without a doubt, the future is ready for its product.  Utilizing an approach that spoke directly to each customer, and not a broad audience, KIA was able to build trust through their understanding of their customers’ day-to-day lives.


Nestled in an area bustling with smart health product companies was a rugged metal-framed structure protected by barbed wire and military personnel. There was no way to ignore it – not only because of the companies that surrounded it but because of the intimidation factor it created. The Foreo booth was littered with signage boasting warnings and cautions against entry into the private space. This booth was exclusive, open only to the press, and had threats of being shut down by CES for what went on inside.

Before entering, participants were given a military-style briefing full of rules about conduct and even warnings such as “if you’re asked to drink something, don’t.” Blindfolds were passed out, and, as I walked with my group, metal clanged together and shrieks sounded around us. When the blindfolds came off, it was apparent we had been led into some sort of mad laboratory. Test subjects, nurses, scientists and more military personnel continued to work. A mad scientist forced his subjects to drink potions, either on their own or by pouring them down people’s throats. It was hectic and confusing and very ‘Area 51’-esque.

The scariest part for me was the conclusion when we were led from the “lab” to a smaller room where the product was finally revealed. The soldiers were back, pitching and demonstrating a beauty care product. The presentation was theatrical and immersive but served as a way to spread Foreo’s message: that their beauty care products were cutting edge and unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Their top product, a twenty-second mask that replaced a twenty-minute mask, was supposed to be illuminated in the shocking militant display.

My guess is that Foreo tried to make an impression on anyone that braved entrance, especially at a show where thousands of companies are vying for consumer attention. This was an outlier in an otherwise bland area and their branding stood out among the crowds. It appears that at CES, standout statements and spectacles draw the most impact and speak louder than any product demonstration. Being the loudest isn’t always the name of the game; being the most memorable is.

Whether a brand is theatrically demonstrating themselves, such as Foreo or Netflix, or dazzling with a technology-operated show like Intel, the point is that they were memorable.  For marketers that attended or missed CES this year, the tip to keep in mind is that tapping into the emotional side of one’s brain is far more lasting than a simple new product pitch.

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