What CES really means for advertising

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The tech conference revealed the best canvases we've ever known, writes Zenith Media's head of innovation.

The relentless sensory overload and the endless complexity and abundance on display at CES is a nice metaphor for modern living. My role is to try and make sense of it, to navigate the endless distractions of trends that most likely won’t ever happen, or even if they do, won’t have any effect on the world of advertising. 

What CES showed this year, more than anything else, was a new way to think about technology. We saw more natural user interfaces like Voice take over, we saw the proliferation of new screens in ever more places, and we saw new ways for audio to augment our lives. Yes, there were robots, kids tech was big, TVs got bigger, but the overarching feeling was that now technology is becoming more assistive, more smart, more visual and yet somehow more background. Things start (in theory) to just work. Devices reorder supplies, doors open, notifications nudge us. At the same time, screens become more immersive, the internet feels more natural and tactile, devices become more personal. This is a wholly exciting but very different way to think about advertising. It’s a world where the lines we currently use to shape our thinking bend and blur.

What the event shows most clear is that modern advertising is increasingly built on the wrong and limiting foundations. The assumptions we make, the way we think, the processes we follow are all shaped around memories and capabilities of devices that are no longer relevant. We have an abundant future ahead of all of us, but we need to start envisaging a future unbound from the past to a future where we can make ads bigger, better, richer, more useful than ever before, CES reveals the best canvases for advertising we’ve ever known. 

Rethinking advertising
Over the last 20 years we’ve rapidly gone from a world of single purpose devices, TVs, Radios, Magazines, Newspapers, and other media, each aligned to their own tidy vertical to a world where all media is increasingly digital, all devices are converged and where verticals blend.

Today, CES shows a new ecosystem of machines, screens, devices, none of which make sense in our old divisions. So this is the time to get comfortable with the new and innovate, since so far we’ve failed to do so.

We’ve had two eras in advertising so far. We first had the age of traditional ads on traditional devices, the simplicity of radio ads on radios, 30-second spots on TV and so forth. From 2000 we entered the era of traditional ads on new screens, we took what we knew and specced them to fit smaller screens, shorter attention spans and new units. Yet the next and most exciting era starts now, making new ads for new screens, this is where CES shines a light. 

Everything is digital
Screens and devices are now smarter, multipurpose and internet-connected. From tablets to TVs, phones to outdoor, connected speakers to wearables, everything in the future will be digitally connected. We’ll still watch live TV, but whether it’s cable, fiber or cellular data, the backbone of media will be digital. Ads will increasingly be dynamically inserted, then created, placement can be based on location, time of day, or recent behavior. Ads no longer need to be 30 seconds, they can be interactive, built over screens, tell stories with sequentially-served units. Ads can be triggered by weather, recent searches, they can use new calls to actions and work together across other devices. The world of digital ads is no longer about rendering out TV ads, but considering what the role of moving images and sound can be to convey meaning. And while this means reactions and everything can be measured, precisely, in real time, it doesn’t mean it should be.

New screens
Surfaces around us are slowly turning into screens. If images were the unit of the past, video replaces them. Whether it’s huge screens in car dashboards, or projected onto windscreens through products like Navdy. It could be ever-thinner T’s or screens for art like this from Samsung. We have Griffin making smart mirrors in bathroom and the proliferation of pico projectors turning any surface into a touch screen. 

Immersive media
Yet, at the same time, media is getting more immersive, and some screens are vanishing. Sony Future Lab Project N is a wearable headband that cocoons you with sound, aided by a personal assistant ( Nigel!?) and yet allows you to listen to the world around you. It’s a way experience a blended reality free from screens and hands free.  

Screens are proliferating, not just surrounding us, but also getting closer too us—more personal, more intimate, more interactive, tactile and immersive.

We’ve got AR and VR headsets coming from all players, but also increasingly mixed reality devices like Intel Alloy that blend reality and augmentation together. We have the potential for smells , feeling haptic feedback more richly than ever,  or even apps that use the dual cameras on smartphones to capture images in 3D for AR.  We’re seeing new interactions like touch proliferate, with technology like the Airbar retrospectively upgrading screens. Gesture-based user interfaces look set to take over car design and Voice, especially Alexa, seem to become a primary way for us to control technology. 

Secretive Magic Leap has the potential to make experiences more lifelike than we ever expected by beaming images directly into our eyes and with potentially a light form factor that makes wearing head-based technology feel normal. 

We’re getting with more intimate data, new interactions with voice and gestures. The internet and the digital world start to become a layer of experiences that cocoon us and augment our lives. If you don't believe it, check out this video of what Leap Motion could become. 

The best canvas
So while there are other movements on display at CES, we also have some powerful questions for debate about privacy. We need to think how conversational commerce and voice UI changes the nature of the purchase funnel. We need to discuss how anticipatory computing can make ads predictive. We can discuss the movement from ownership to access. The one overriding feeling I get from CES is how exciting the canvas for advertising is becoming.

Technology is augmenting life, the internet is now pervasive and assistive, the lines between reality and projection, space and time are all blending. The toolbox we have is nothing like we’ve ever had before, so let’s forget the past and forge ahead in a wonderful new world of marketing that should be unbound by thinking of the past.