Why CES? The Ad Industry Attached Itself to a Consumer Tech Show, But as CES Evolves, Should That Continue?

By But Wait, That's Not All... Archives
Cover image for  article: Why CES? The Ad Industry Attached Itself to a Consumer Tech Show, But as CES Evolves, Should That Continue?

Happy 2020! Once again, the ad industry opens its collective eyes to a New Year and the first thing they see is Las Vegas. The annual bemoaning of "Why does this have to be so soon after the New Year?" continues to ignore the fact that we are interlopers, pilot fish on the shark at a show designed for the consumer electronics industry.

Which actually brings up a good question: How did we get here? Why did this particular trade show, at a ridiculously inconvenient time, become such a mecca for C-levels, marketers, and the media sales community?

The first CES was held in New York City in June 1967, with 17,500 attendees and more than 100 exhibitors. The highlight that year was the pocket radio and TVs with, wait for it, integrated circuits. Not so many ad folks attended that one — or any of the ones that followed for decades, for that matter, unless they happened to service a consumer electronics account.

Fast-forward to 2019, CES — which moved to Las Vegas in 1978 — had more than 175,000 attendees from over 160 countries; 4,400 exhibitors took up a leg-throbbing 2.9 million square feet of convention space, including the C-Space (at the Aria and Park MGM), which is solely focused on the adtech/martech space.

By the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, televisions had evolved and the old 32" cathode ray tube TV began its not-so-long goodbye, while the first flat-screens and 720p hi-def made their debut. The annual CES rite of LG, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony competing for the rights to hype "the largest TV screen ever" began. In 1999, Mike Ramsay announced that something called "TiVo" would launch in early 2000, beginning an era that would rock the foundations of live TV viewing and permanently change viewing habits.

All of these changes to the core advertising medium, along with the parallel growth of digital media, piqued media and advertising professionals' interest in CES. By 2002, a much larger number of media agencies were sending their key executives, holding global executive meetings, and exploring the expo floor. It was during this time of exponential technological change that the news media began to cover CES extensively, driving interest in attending from marketers who saw the potential opportunities and disruptions that this revolution would bring.

Agencies saw the potential, too, recognizing the ability to steward their clients through the morass that is CES, show their expertise, and bond with clients. Agencies started by offering show floor tours for their clients. (Full disclosure: For over a decade, I led many of those for OMD). With both agencies and clients in attendance, senior-level sales executives began attending and formal top-to-top meetings began. Most of these meetings took place with digital companies such as AOL (at the time), Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Yahoo!. In a very real way, CES turned into a pre-Upfront.

Soon, agencies began to grow concerned about all the competitors mingling with their clients. To minimize risk and control their clients' agendas, they created programming that took up substantial amounts of time — filling the days with panels, social events, and celebrity discussions to add some sizzle to the experience. The C-Space conference within a conference, which launched in 2015 as a partnership between the Consumer Electronics Association and MediaLink, is now the de facto hub of the ad industry's presence at CES.

While most clients found some value in all this, the core point of coming to see the Consumer Electronics Show was minimized to a two-hour tour. But it's impossible to see even a percentage of what CES has to offer in two hours.

There is, however, a serious question when it comes to the future importance of CES for marketers and agencies. Some plan to scale back their presence (which can be quite costly) amid economic uncertainty around 2020. Added to that, the focus of CES has shifted away from television and media-centric hardware to artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, drones, robots, and other technologies not as obvious as potential advertising or marketing communication vehicles. Even the focus of C-Space is evolving from just topics such as adtech, data privacy, and the "streaming wars" to also include issues such as sustainability and brand purpose. Per Michael Kassan, co-founder and CEO of MediaLink that runs C-Space: “CES has not lost its relevance at all. Agency people may be looking for greater justification and rationale for the investment, but the relevance of CES is stronger than ever.”

But I believe it's important that marketers and agencies attend CES. I also believe that agencies need to rethink their agendas to allow more engagement and time with the incredible start-ups and innovation on display on the main show floors.

There are countless industry events all year 'round featuring talking-head panels; top-to-top meetings can happen in New York or Los Angeles anytime. Witnessing a gathering of the world's most entrepreneurial and innovative companies is a once-a-year opportunity. Engaging directly with those entrepreneurs and the ideas that come from speaking with them can provide solutions and new product ideas for all.

But Wait, That's Not All…

If you are reading this and are in Vegas for CES, I recommend attending MediaVillage's 2020 Advancing Diversity Hall of Honors + Advancing a Diverse Workforce career meet-up. Both events feature an A-list of top brand and agency leaders who will gather to honor those who have made the greatest contributions over the past year to embed diversity and inclusion into the ethos of corporate America, as well as to find the next generation of talent.

This year's inductees include:

Jill Baskin, Chief Marketing Officer, The Hershey Company

J. Michael Haynie, Ph.D., Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation, Institute for Veteran and Military Families

Tim Jones, CEO, Publicis Media Americas

Tim McNeal, Vice President, Creative Talent Development & Inclusion, Walt Disney Television

Sue Obeidi, Director, Muslim Public Affairs Council; The Hollywood Bureau

Tony Rogers, Chief Member Officer, Sam's Club

Tiffany R. Warren, Senior Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer, Omnicom Group; Founder & President, ADCOLOR

Shelley Zalis, CEO, The Female Quotient

The cornerstone of the evening is an interactive Creative Tensions experience run by the Sundance Institute Theatre Program. I attended last year and it was absolutely one of the best events I've experienced in my media career.

Plus, there is ample time for substantive networking. The event is at the Park MGM on Wednesday, January 8, from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. It's an invite-only event, so if you are interested in attending, please message me directly at jeff@mediavillage.com.

Also, follow me on Twitter and Instagram (@mediawhiz), and always at @mediavillage for more posts, microblogs, and links to full articles on CES.

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