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The Alternative Reality of CES 2017

Experiential Marketing
London, UK
INFLUENCER: Jack Morton's Caspar Mason says it's time to put down the internet enabled cup of tea to concentrate on making great campaigns

It’s hard to believe that CES has been around for 50 years, but there you go. It’s seen great empires rise and fall. It’s watched as countless Next Big Things turn into paperweights, desk clutter and landfill. And still it goes on.

At CES 2017, as with so many things in life, the fun can be found on the peripheries. The outer edges, away from the well-funded, well-managed major players.   

William Gibson famously talked of the future already being here, but unevenly distributed - meaning early-adopting 1%ers may as well be living 20 years in the future, surrounded as they are by a technological layer that many of us don’t even know exists. At CES, it’s more a case of ‘alternative realities are actually all around us...they’re just unevenly clustered in the booths and basements of Las Vegas convention centres’. 

In these alternative worlds, no need is unmet (however unnecessary). Every brainstorm post-it has made it through. And if there is space to cram in a chip or circuit, then someone certainly has. 

For your consideration... 

We put technology in your tea, despite your protestations. 

A robot to press a button. I’m stuck between mocking laughter and wondering if this is genius. 

The WELT - a belt to manage your calorie intake. If this doesn’t suddenly tighten like a gastric band when it detects fried chicken then I’m not interested. 

Phone charger, key holder, Bluetooth speaker, I could go on. They certainly did. 

Underwear that blocks radiation from WiFi. Faintly ridiculous out of context, actually quite useful at CES. 

(These have been shamelessly lifted from the wonderful Internet of Shit’s twitter accountSee more here.

Things seem to fall into one of three categories: 

1) A terrible idea 

2) An interesting idea, badly executed 

3) Just…I can’t even

Of course the danger of these articles is that, for every D.O.A. product launch, there’s a unicorn waiting to burst out and immortalise any snarky commentators as idiots for ever after.

One of the problems with connected devices (aside from when they’re co-opted into a DDoS cyber attack) is the part they want to play in your life. Many are designed to be at the centre of your world - anticipating what’s good for you and making decisions accordingly. So what happens when devices designed to have pole position in your life are connected and conflicted? When your connected fridge (assuming it’s not attacking the Pentagon) wants to order more bread, while your health-tracking wrist band has decided you’ve had enough carbs this week, fatty? Who wins? 

OK…this might not be the biggest problem we face in the next few years, but ‘too much stuff’ definitely is. Of course, many of these won’t make it to the wider world, due to never making the leap over Moore’s Chasm: 

Whatever the model - Gartner’s Hype Cycle, Roger’s bell curve (above) - it’s always implied that new things will be adopted. But the reality is that most will crash and burn into Moore’s Chasm, never making the leap into general consciousness…and that’s doubley, tripley true for things in the alternative reality of CES. 

What’s the lesson for the brands and agencies? Many are lined up eagerly, ready to pounce on anything that shows a bit of promise at CES. There’s also a lot of talk in agency land about innovation, about being makers, about bringing actual products to market (not least because it doesn’t look bad when the awards come around). This, then, is the cold, hard reality of that. If you think agency competition is fierce, wait until you get into the world of hungry, desperate start-ups with rolled-up sleeping bags under their desks and a well-founded fear of being ripped off by lightning-fast copycats before they’ve even got their product to market.  

So I say leave them to it. Put down the internet enabled cup of tea to concentrate on making great comms campaigns and brand experiences. When an innovation does have legs, we can do what we do best: connect people with that opportunity and show how it’s real and relevant. 

That’s the reality we should concentrate on.

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