Not so long ago, the Consumer Electronics Show was crammed with futuristic gadgets that seemed years away from becoming mainstream fixtures for consumers. But with the quick evolution of technology over the past decade, the enormous gathering has also evolved into a major marketing destination, drawing reps from the world's largest brands, agencies and media companies.
"Ten years ago, you would go to Las Vegas and see technology manufacturers' vision of a distant future," says Craig Atkinson, chief investment officer at PHD. "Now you're seeing this coming year, or stuff that's already in Best Buy. It may sound subtle, but it makes a real big difference for marketers."
An estimated 150,000 to 170,000 attendees are expected to scope out the latest trends at the four-day show, which will feature tech-enabled fitness gear and cheaper drones and virtual reality products.
"Last year, a lot of the ideas for the programs that we ran were kicked off by just walking around the CES floor," explains Jeff Malmad, mobile and Life+ (wearables) lead at Mindshare. "That helped get the creative juices going, which permeated into actual campaigns that we deployed in 2015. We're hoping that this CES will do just the same."
Here's a look at six of the hottest tech trends marketers need to know about:
One year after Oculus Rift grabbed the attention of marketers with stunning 360-degree videos, cheaper technology from the likes of Samsung and Google have helped make VR more accessible and popular. The nascent technology will be the subject of 14 panels at CES. "There is finally a hunger for it from consumers, content creators and hardware manufacturers—and therefore, brands want to follow," notes Carrie Seifer, president of digital at MediaVest. Still out of focus is the degree to which marketers plan to harness VR in the immediate future.
With high-definition camera maker GoPro finally planning to launch its own drone—dubbed Karma—later this year, enthusiasts of the technology have much to look forward to. CES will devote 25,000 square feet of exhibit space to the flying gadgets, a 200 percent increase over 2015. One drone maker featured at CES is PowerUp Toys, which makes motorized planes embedded with tiny cameras that livestream footage to consumers' smartphones. A potential downside remains looming FAA regulations requiring registration.
Last year, the Apple Watch and rival smartwatches were the buzz, but PHD's Atkinson expects a cooling off in the category this time around: "Consumers kind of went, 'Meh.' It was a technology looking for a use case." Instead, look for devices from more than 40 exhibitors that discretely use technology (think the Internet of Things), such as an athletic shoe insert that advises how fast one should run based on his weight and height.
With rapidly dropping prices for Wi-Fi-connected appliances—refrigerators, washing machines, home security systems—the space is becoming more accessible, and smarter and more efficient for consumers. At CES, Bosch plans to show off an app-controlled lawn mower that trims the grass according to weather conditions. The device claims to be 30 percent faster at mowing the lawn versus other robotics.
Long a staple at CES, TV sets remain a category marketers are eager to see—despite the rise in cord cutting. "The television is the center of the home entertainment experience, and it's the best canvas to tell a story in many ways. We want to see more TVs; we want to see bigger screens," says Mindshare's Malmad. This year, expect to see 8K HDTVs with crystal-clear pixels and curved sets from Samsung, LG and others.
Once the domain of aerospace and engineering, 3-D printers have become so mainstream that practically anyone can play around with one. Retailers like Zappos, The UPS Store and Lowe's are experimenting with industrial-style manufacturing to make new products quickly and cheaply. CES boasts 65 3-D printing exhibitors, including 3D Systems, which will demonstrate the soles it's been working on for New Balance.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 4 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.