Op-Ed: CES is a Waste of Time for Agencies

By Kiran Aditham 

Our old pal Josh Siefert, senior marketing strategist at Brooklyn-based, IPG-owned digital shop HUGE, has returned. Let him regale you with a tale about CES. Take it away, sir.

I cannot for the life of me understand why anybody outside of the electronics industry goes to the consumer electronics show, least of all, ad agency people, digital or otherwise. Sure, everyone loves gadgets and using them may change consumer behavior over time, but walking the floors taking in the 20,000 different products that electronics giants are shilling strikes me as a colossal waste of time. Agencies perhaps have finally realized that digital actually changes the way consumers behave in their lives and subsequently interact with brands. But, showing up to a gadget show in an attempt to be more relevant? Bizarro.


CES may be a bellwether for technology, but it reflects what media and tech companies want to sell, and think consumersmight buy, not how they’ll behave or interact with brands. A couple years ago, the big news at CES was 3D TV—except that it turns out nobody wanted it. Before that, was the battle between the hi-def formats HD-DVD and Blu-Ray—and then it turned out that nobody cared, and just wanted to stream content from the Internet. Gadget companies are busy trying to catch-up with consumer behaviors that have been enabled by someone else, often a digital services company that changes the landscape—Pandora, Facebook, Netflix, Hulu, etc. started changing consumer behaviors long before their services ended up in CES gadgets. Apple, perhaps the single largest driver of these changes with the iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc. doesn’t even participate in CES! Another tech giant, Microsoft, won’t be participating any more either.

Electronics manufacturers of course must be thrilled to have agency and marketing executives wandering the aisles. Much like cable companies are terrified of becoming the dumb pipe that just provides the Internet and access to someone else’s content, companies like Samsung and Sony are terrified of being the dumb box without providing any added value beyond a nice looking screen, that they can then monetize. While there’s an ad supported Kindle that’s reputed to be pretty unobtrusive, I’m pretty terrified of the day my TV forces me to watch a commercial when I turn it on.

Most baffling to me is the value that agencies think they’re getting by attending CES. To be cliché, agencies tell brand stories; so obviously attending CES is about telling better brand stories with new technology and making sense of the 20,000 gadgets among other tech trends. Basically, how do we make the Minority Report ad fantasy real (personalized out of home that follows you everywhere). Or, my more cynical view, agencies are just desperately trying to figure out how to make the ads they’ve always made, just digital. Of course, the technology services that have changed the world in recent years have started as enablers of creative communication, they are not drivers of it and they do not drive it. YouTube and Facebook didn’t begin as ad delivery mechanisms. QR codes continue to be a fail. The iPhone and iPad are exciting because they have apps created by an enormous developer base. Technology enables new behaviors enabling new advertising methods. Technology alone doesn’t beget better ads. And, most new tech start-ups fail. It’s all just noise until people are behaving differently. Then it’s interesting and valuable for advertisers.

The value of attending CES is of course, enormous. Agency people get to hangout with clients, see and be seen, and drink in Vegas on someone else’s dime. It just won’t make anyone better at selling soap.