CMO Secrets: CES Unpacked

Why more brands are starting their event calendar at the world’s biggest technology festival. 

Contributions by Head of Strategy Georgina Burrows

At the start of any project, our strategist’s job is to interrogate the why. Why are you running this event, and how does it underpin your overall marketing strategy?

We sent our Head of Strategy Georgina Burrows onsite to do that very thing. Her take? In the after glow of 2024, CMO’s should already be thinking about how (and where) to activate at CES differently

1/3: Activations outside the main show are serious business

Launching a product? The main convention centre is your arena. Looking to build relationships? Activate further afield.

For some of our clients, the real value doesn’t come from the exposure of being part of the main tech show – which, in a convention center of 4.6 million square feet, can be overwhelmingly busy – but by taking a space in the Aria Resort to hold high value meetings and sessions with a carefully curated guest list.  

While the tech show up at the Las Vegas Convention Center gets the big press headlines, arguably the real movers and shakers are changing the world with the content and deals that are going down in the Aria.

Inside the Aria this year, the C-Space entertainment, advertising and content track focused on how tech trends are driving changes in content consumption and consumer behaviour. For the first time, the C Space content track expanded into the Cosmopolitan hotel next door, showing the value CES is placing on this particular stream.  

New activations at C Space in 2024 included Disney hosting presentations at Cosmo’s Chelsea theatre, as well as Paramount Global, Pinterest and Reddit. Returning brands included NBCUniversal, Amazon Ads, LG, Roku, Samsung Ads, Snap, T-Mobile, and Yahoo.

With talks and panels from Steve Huffman, co-founder and CEO of Reddit, Catherine Halaby, Head of Entertainment at TikTok, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel and a live performance by Wu Tang Clan for Yahoo – all outside of the convention centre – brands capitalized on the opportunity of to activate at CES in alternative spaces.

And suites are not the only option

Netflix took over the Aria East Donuts and Coffee shop at Proper Eats in a never-before-seen pop up activation at the Aria. Creating the Netflix x Speakeasy Donuts right in the middle of the main drag of the concourse was a stroke of genius – not only was it new and different, it served as a central meeting point for what felt like half the attendees, and the coffee wasn’t bad either!

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A post shared by Proper Eats Food Hall (@propereatslasvegas)

The rest of the year, the exterior donut shop hides a small pop up speakeasy bar, hosting live entertainment, parties and inventive cocktails. It was one of the most talked-about parts of the Aria activations, given the high footfall and novelty element.  

Behind the coffee/donut shop, invited guests could get access to an immersive speakeasy space for programming and meetings. This ticked both the high profile activation and exclusive content boxes, and while the space wouldn’t have been cheap, this activation would have delivered maximum bang for the Netflix buck.

This goes to show that creative counts for a lot with this crowd – and it’s worth exploring other activations beyond the suites. Actually, it reminds us of that time we took over a London club with YouTube.  

2/3: Expect the unexpected – but AI was still the dominating theme

No one was surprised that AI was top of the talking point trumps, but unexpectedly, it manifested in different ways across the show. While CES itself set out its stall by using AI generated imagery to promote the show, tractor manufacturer John Deere was an unlikely technological star, exhibiting self-driving tractors and crop-management AI technology. 

Another hot announcement was Siemens showcasing how its digital twin software uses AI to create accurate virtual representations of physical goods – huge for online shopping brands, while Holoconnects demonstrated an AI-powered hologram and Baracoda showed off an AI mirror for mental health. The mirror can analyse expressions and adapt to moods with light therapy and suggested meditations. 

We also saw AI robot companions and Smart Home Agents, alongside a real life flying car, apparently ready for sale in 2025. So far, so futuristic. 

Back in our client’s worlds, ad agencies have adopted generative AI to assist in conceiving ads, and media holding companies have been working with all the tech companies to introduce brands to AI-powered tools to help manage ad campaigns.

At CES, these ad agencies were looking for the next big advances in AI, and that’s what the majority of the conversations and meetings were about in the suites.  

3/3: (Room) Keys to Success

We were delighted to activate at CES for Criteo and Smartly. Through beautiful, custom-built suites inside the Aria, we super-powered sales conversations and created a curated oasis in the Vegas festival. key audience observations and insights on the way the CES guests move through the event in order to build the perfect spaces for these brands.

Knowing that well-designed space and considered programming are the ways to bring a curated guest list into the space, we were able to build oases of calm within the CES chaos.  

With the world’s biggest tech show back with a bang after the pandemic and growing year on year, there’s certainly value in brands showing up in this space – but a considered, strategic approach is key to success. 

Let’s unpack CES over coffee.

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