For the Advertising and Tech Elite, CES Is Shaping Up to Be the Next Cannes

Marketers increasingly find a home among gadgets

When the tech world comes to Las Vegas this week to show off its hardware, a shadow convention will thrive behind the scenes. It's the one for the advertising industry that goes anywhere shiny new screens take it.

Indeed, companies seemingly unrelated to gadgets will be at the Consumer Electronics Show, turning it into the first big advertising conference of the year that many say rivals Austin's SXSW and is even as important as the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France.

That's why the major media holding companies like Starcom Mediavest and Omnicom Media Group are taking over Las Vegas hotels to court clients and connect to the latest technology. There will be VIP dinners and celebrity events, and while the main show is on the convention center floor in well-lighted booths, the most important meetings will take place in the background, in the hotel suites, where top executives from the tech and advertising world come together to plan marketing's future.

"A big part of CES is timing, six months ahead of Cannes, and it comes right out of the holiday," said Jonathan Nelson, CEO of Omnicom Digital. "This sets the tone and agenda for the year."

Nelson has seen an evolution at CES over the past decade, transforming into a high-level advertising convention as much as it is a place for new hardware. Last year, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was the main speaker at the show, and her aim was mostly ad focused.

This advertising agenda has become more formalized over the years. It used to be that agencies would only send a handful of tech enthusiasts, but now the entire C Suite and most important clients are in attendance.

"It's a great place to come together because you know most of the decision makers will be in Vegas," Nelson said.

David Berkowitz, CMO at MRY, said he's also seen the growth of the marketing convention within CES. He's been coming for almost a decade and used to be the only ad person in the room.

This year, for the first time, there will be a location dedicated to the marketing, advertising and tech elite: the C-Space at the Aria, which is being run by MeidaLink.

"The C-Space is designed for marketers and the broader creative community. That's a huge change that marks a big shift in approach to CES," Berkowitz said. "In many ways this shadow show has nothing to do with CES in any meaningful way."

While the tech world focuses on the hardware shown on the convention room floor these marketers, brands and software companies will be focused on where to put the ads.

"It's almost a question of which show will you be attending," Berkowitz said.

MRY is using the electronics show as a way to connect its brand clients with the startups that look to break out in Las Vegas and present new marketing platforms.

"A favorite spot of mine is Eureka Park where you have some companies that are a little bit weird and sometimes really innovative," Berkowitz said.

MRY is owned by Starcom MediaVest, which will have a fully loaded attack plan for Las Vegas, including one of the bigger parties of the week.

Dave Marsey, evp managing director of DigitasLBi in San Francisco, will be showing clients around the convention and meeting with startups. "This is still about tech and hardware at its core but it's really a marketing conference, too, around how do you make sense of all this technology," Morsey said.

On top of the media and creative agencies, all the major tech players will be here. Google, Facebook, Yahoo and LinkedIn represent some of the more established players, and companies like Snapchat and Pinterest, not typically associated with hardware and still new to advertising, also will be in Las Vegas to take advantage of the marketing firepower.

"The timing of CES makes it a great place for us to kick off the year with our agency partners and customers," said Russel Glass, LinkedIn's head of marketing products. "For us, it's an opportunity to get smart about the industry landscape, and understand how new products and services will affect key customers and the clients our agencies work with."