CES post-mortem: Advertising, but not as we know it

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Advertising has been around for thousands of years, but control of data is redrawing the landscape

It’s hard to know what could be added to the coverage of CES from CNET, CBS, Mashable, Engadget, the New York Times and all the other media outlets reporting from and about last week’s events in Las Vegas.

The big themes have been well-documented, the shiny objects drooled over and the winners announced.

For me, however, one particular (and often-asked) question does stand out: how come so many hotel rooms were occupied by marketing and advertising professionals? Why did CES suddenly look like the winter version of Cannes?

I think the Cannes Festival organizers know, and that’s why they’ve announced a new award category for 2015. It’s not a coincidence; the answer is data.

The vast majority of products on display at CES 2015 (the Belfie stick not included) either carry or create pieces of data. Where there’s data, there’s opportunity.

As I believe a CEO of Boeing said not too long ago, he doesn’t run an airplane business; he runs a technology business that makes airplanes.

In the same vein, I think we are now (or should be) data businesses that make advertising.

It won’t be the advertising we think of today, though.

At a philosophical level, the business of advertising hasn’t changed for centuries, if not millennia. Indeed, the painted advertising surrounding the Roman Games bear a striking similarity to 17th century pamphlets and the video pre-roll before Jon Stewart’s Daily Show monologue; in each of these scenarios, there is a simple, symbiotic relationship between content and commercial.

What we saw at CES, though, is that Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Bosch, LG, Intel and others – all the global companies showcasing their big bets in Vegas – will, soon enough, begin to tear at that relationship. They may not break it completely, but they will certainly be applying a lot of pressure. In the visions and products of these corporations – whether it be the driverless car, an Internet of Things refrigerator, a wrist-borne wearable or a friendly Withings sleep system – the future of advertising lies in the application of direct, data-driven decision-making.

While it’s still anyone’s guess as to which of these trends and products will ultimately succeed, I’d make a big bet that to our list of media partners we will soon be adding the owners of the operating systems in that funky Bosch fridge and the Audi A7.

The dominant symbiotic relationship in the future will be between device and commercial.

And that’s an exciting prospect, not only because of the precision and accuracy of the commercial potential, but also because of the content opportunity for brands when they can be truly liberated from the hegemony of the ad break.

Jon Gittings is global strategy officer for business development with MediaCom.

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