Is a Must-Attend Event Something You Must Attend?

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At the point at which CES has become a must-attend for the advertising and marketing communities, the question increasingly rises: really?

Why must the advertising and marketing communities attend a trade show designed to showcase pie-in-the-sky technologies, most of which will never make it to store shelves or consumers’ homes?

When brand marketers first turned up in Vegas in January in force (about 10 years ago), they were motivated by fear of missing the next big thing after a slow early response to the rise of digital technologies.

More recently, the trip was justified with seemingly bulletproof logic: a need to understand how technology might transform lives and behaviors, and therefore change the ways in which brands reach and talk to people.

Makes sense. Or does it? As veteran tech columnist David Pogue noted last week when asked whether the ad industry really needs to show up at CES: “Only two out of 10 of these [new technologies] are ever going to fly, and no one knows which two. So 80% of your time is being wasted.”

Looked at from that angle, it might make more sense for brands to invite Pogue and his peers to come into their offices a week after CES ends to highlight the two or three things most relevant to their businesses.

Shadow CES

But in the last year or two, something interesting happened: brands began to admit that the value of CES wasn’t to be found on the trade show floor—most of them never even make it there, truth be told—but in meeting rooms and restaurants at hotels along the Strip.  “CES for marketers isn’t about tech and what’s next,” said Gizmodo’s Christina Warren. “It’s about networking and the opportunity to meet and compare notes with other people.”

She’s right. There’s now a shadow CES and unlike the main event, it’s actually relevant to marketers. At this CES, brands, agencies and media companies have a chance to come together early in the new year to set the agenda for the months ahead. The opportunity to be inspired by the latest gadgets and gee-whiz gizmos—to ogle at a 4K TV screen here or chat with a robot there—is icing on the cake.

CES, along with SXSW and Cannes, is now effectively an efficiency play.

And even if no one can accurately predict which 20% of those products on the show floor will make it to market, there are trendlines that reveal themselves and can point the way forward for marketers determining where to point their investments.

This year, those trends included: the arrival (finally) of the smart home and connected cars; the evolution of wearable technologies; and the emergence of virtual & augmented reality.

The thing that people talked most excitedly about was a thing that people talk to: Amazon’s voice-activated Alexa. By some estimates, upwards of 1,000 Alexa-compatible devices were featured at CES, giving a ubiquitous presence to a company that doesn’t formally participate at the event.

CNet’s Brian Cooley noted that the best technologies are those that are transparent, intimate and intuitive. Alexa checks each of those boxes. Would you rather control the temperature in your smart home by unlocking your iphone, opening an app and typing in a setting or by saying, “Alexa, turn the heat up”?

“Voice,” Cooley said, “is the ultimate interface.”

For future-proofing marketers who did attend this possibly must-attend event, that insight alone was worth the price of admission.

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