Last week was the Consumer Electronics Show, an event more widely attended by brand marketers than ever before. Although the show resembled last year’s a bit too closely for our liking, we’ve resisted simply republishing our 2011 recap. What was unique however, is the sense of relief we feel upon our return. Instead of feeling intimidated by the speed of innovation, or anxious from the ever-fragmenting tech landscape, we’ve come home with our industry angst alleviated. Let us elaborate on the trends keeping us relaxed.
No one actually knows how to design for “laplets”
As the world of consumer electronics bounces between convergence and divergence, we were a bit surprised to walk through booths full of laptop + tablet hybrids that seem to be a unique device offering in and of themselves. Then there were phone + tablet hybrids like the Samsung Note. There was even a tablet + gaming rig hybrid. On top of those converging devices, we were struck by the number of input peripherals accompanying them. Peripherals are nothing new, but this onslaught of converged devices with inputs beyond touchscreens is really interesting. It seems touch interface isn’t the panacea we all wanted it to be. When the iPhone and iPad changed the way we did stuff, we figured that was it.
However, one look at how game developers and electronics manufacturers are interacting demonstrates just how difficult it is for content creators to stick immersive content into a touch environment. Ever played a mobile game with dual-virtual-stick control? It sucks. But game developers are still designing games that require it. As anyone that works at an agency has seen, designing irrespective of context happens daily. Sure, we all have our different remedies for this (see BBH’s media design practice), but almost no marketers truly craft ideas from environments. The best simply craft to them, closing the gap as best they can, but not truly letting the context or medium play as fundamental a role as it deserves.
Seeing some of the world’s best content creators struggle with familiar issues, we couldn’t help but let guilty smiles cross our faces. We can take solace it isn’t just us marketers.
TVs being “smart” means we may not have to be
Last year, virtually every booth had the word “smart” displayed on it, obliquely referencing the fact that their TVs were internet-enabled. Although the idea of apps on TVs isn’t going away (especially with gesture-based engagement on the horizon), we saw a more conservative- dare we say even practical– approach to TV apps this year. Instead of highlighting obscure developers they had worked with to make apps, this year the manufacturers were presenting the familiar logos of Netflix, Hulu and Fios. We’d argue such familiarity is welcome to both consumers and marketers. It means less subscriptions for people, and a less fragmented media landscape for marketers.
As TV manufacturers came to the welcome realization that the revenue from app sales simply wasn’t going to change the face of their business, content providers with app-driven models like Netflix have been emboldened (it’s no coincidence Hulu announced its first unique scripted series on the heels of CES). This media-agency-friendly revenue model will make it easier for brands to get onto TV screens without having to partner with developers. Instead, they’ll work through content and distribution companies they already know how to engage. If we had to guess, that means subscription-services like HBO and FiOS will experiment with ad presence of varying levels, depending on the platform (e.g., Xbox 360 vs Panasonic Viera Connect). It’s certainly a lot easier as a brand to think about how to work with Hulu than it is to sort out unique offerings across Sony and LG devices. No one should be more relieved about this consolidation than marketers, a group notoriously bad at partnering with developers and quantifying value in new ways.
Perhaps most importantly, media deal-making lunches have been preserved. Phew.
We put a big bet on Apple and we seem to be winning
Apple is famously absent from every CES, yet it’s clear to any attendee that they are present, if not formally as an exhibitor. Last year was a show of iPad alternatives. The year before was an exhibition of iPhone derivatives. This year was the “hey we have a MacBook Air too” show. Apple certainly didn’t invent the ultra-thin laptop, but any analysis of the design and feature-set selected across various manufacturer’s devices (see Samsung’s new Series 9, Dell’s XPS 13 or any device featured by Intel as an Ultrabook) reveals a very Apple-like device.
Once again, a comforting thought donned on us as we walked the Convention Center floor. Few industries have adopted Apple products as early and as deeply than the ad industry. As creative teams relentlessly pitch tech ideas born from an Apple-centric view of the universe, they may just start to see more nodding heads and fewer rolling eyes. Agencies are notorious for their dogmatic approach to ideas. In this case, Apple’s vast grip on consumer electronics may justify our utterly biased view of tech experiences.
It seems creatives have yet another thing to thank Steve for.
The home is connecting to retail (and we had nothing to do with it)
We’ve all been hearing about the refrigerator that tells you when you’re low on milk since before there were computers (fine, not quite that long, but still). This year’s CES brought all of the “smart” into context for the truly connected home. An LG refrigerator not only speaks to your phone or tablet to tell you all about its contents or encourage you to fill it up again– it also helps you manage a diet via personal profiles and nutritional information. Smart vacuums and ovens do their duties when you’re not even home, and some appliances talk to each other to save on power usage. We’re used to hearing about appliances that talk to retail (or an online grocer), but this year, the retail environment talks back. Walking through the stores of the near future, we’ll get notifications about relevant offers, loyalty plus-ups and even recipe analysis based on what’s at home in your fridge. We’ll no longer have 58 heads of garlic at home or 9 jars of cayenne pepper. What a pleasant surprise– we’ve been trying to solve for the gap between home/planning and shopping/buying forever in marketing. Promotions, brand extensions and partnerships will have much more clarity, because they’ll be based on consumer need rather than marketing guesswork. LG, Alcatel-Lucent and others have given us a palette from which to create truly integrated designs for the makers, sellers and buyers of everyday products. In other words, marketers’ inability to close the gap between retail and brand experiences may soon be a non-issue. The tech industry is sorting it out for us.
Now maybe we can help them figure out how to make their biggest event fresh again.
*Saneel & Tim were two of the co-founders of Denuo, and this was the 10th CES they’ve attended together. They’ve come home broke, and in a fight, after each.