Marketing executives have descended on the 2017 edition of the Consumer Electronics Show. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG NEWS
Over the past few years the CES trade show has become a familiar post-holidays pilgrimage for many of the country’s biggest marketers. They see the event as a way to get a sneak peek at the latest tech gadgets and technologies that can help them engage with their customers.
This year marketing executives from companies such as Coca-Cola,Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Campbell Soup and PepsiCo Inc. made their way to Las Vegas for the gathering.
The convention was jam-packed with everything from self-driving cars to robots that play chess to Procter & Gamble’s air-freshener spray that can connect with Alphabet Inc.’s Nest home to automatically release pleasant scents in the home.
But there was one category that seemed to especially win over marketers: virtual assistants. And it was Amazon’s Echo, based on its Alexa voice-activated assistant, that had the most buzz. Powered by artificial intelligence, it allows customers to ask questions, control smart home devices, and order on Amazon.
“Marketing is much more about providing a great experience or a product that makes a consumer’s life easier and one of the most interesting developments for our business is the virtual assistant,” said Kristin Lemkau, chief marketing officer of J.P. Morgan Chase.
You can already see the potential for how Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant can “transform people’s lives in the same way that apps did,” she added.
Kieran Hannon, chief marketing officer of Belkin International, echoed those sentiments, adding that Alexa and Google Home can “replace the need for an app integration” for brands. Marketers, he added, should make sure they are incorporating these technologies into user experiences.
While there was plenty of hype once again around virtual reality during the event, some marketers are struggling to figure out whether this new medium, which has the potential to offer very engaging experiences, is a long term marketing play or a gimmick.
Is it “like 3D, which didn’t take over as everyone had expected?” said Britta Bomhard, chief marketing officer of Church & Dwight Co., maker of Arm & Hammer branded products.
To date, virtual reality has been used as more of a one-off kind of marketing play and is largely still seen as experimental.
Some industry executives are convinced VR is better suited for gaming rather than as a marketing vehicle.
“There is no way most people are going to sit there with those big headsets on,” said Irwin Gotlieb, chairman of WPP’s GroupM, the largest media buying firm in the world. Instead, Mr. Gotlieb said he sees more potential in the advancements that TV manufacturers are making to enhance picture quality. Those, he says, will offer marketers more engagement in the long term.
Beyond trend scouting, there was plenty of schmoozing as media and tech companies pulled out all the stops to woo marketers.
On Thursday night, media advisory firm Medialink, along with Conde Nast and Universal Music, had Gwen Stefani serenade a room full of top executives including Interpublic Group CEO Michael Roth, Twitter Chief Operating Officer Anthony Noto and Shari Redstone, a power player in the media empire that includes Viacom Inc. and CBS Corp.