The marketer's CES playbook: Take shortcuts

Shorter paths between people and activities give us fewer opportunities to irritate with ads, says director of digital strategy and social media at TBWA

One of my major reasons for waking up every morning: Someday, I’ll get to live like the Jetsons, and CES is my annual teaser for that hopeful future. I know why I attend the show as a human being, but why am I here as a marketer?

Every January, the sport-coat mafia descends upon Las Vegas; attends partnership meetings in various hotel suites; emails everyone they know to get on party lists; and three days later, flies home with the classic agency CES experience.  

Sure, many make time to hit the show floor for a couple hours, but most marketers are just fine with reading the Gizmodo roundups to get the most out of CES.

I do it a bit differently. Each year, I make time to see every square inch of the 1 million square feet of show space so that my co-workers don’t have to. It’s like whitewater rafting through a river of shit with a rubber oar, but I do it so that I don’t miss anything that could renew my love-hate relationship with advertising.

I’m not going to give you a roundup of all the cool, weird stuff I’ve seen — you can find that article somewhere else. What I’d like to do here is provide some inspiration for how marketers can generally approach CES and technology and what they could learn.

Drones, HDR TVs, hoverboards and the "Internet of Things" (gag): These were just some of the many trending topics at CES. They’re all united by a common thread: a faster and simpler way to do things better. In a word: shortcuts.

Some of those shortcuts are profound. A device called Prizm, part of the connected home, is a small pyramid that assesses the people and the mood in the room, and gives the home audio system a contextual playlist to automatically play. No more manually DJing dinner parties or domestic spats.

Some shortcuts are banal. Another connected home device, Naran Push, is a robotic finger that pushes buttons for you. Instead of going through the torture of standing up and walking over to your wall switch to turn on the lights, you can do it from the comfort of an app. (Note: You must buy a second Naran Push if you want to turn that same light switch OFF.) It’s kind of magical to be able to use your finger from anywhere in the world.

So what do Prizm and Naran Push have to do with advertising? To be honest, not very much.  There are no screens to deliver a message, but I’m sure someone will find a way to provide sponsored mood playlists or physically prod some "subservient chicken" on the Internet.

The important takeaway is that these devices cut out time people will spend doing things they don’t want to do. The shorter paths between people and their desired activities, the fewer opportunities we advertisers have to irritate them with our ads.

There’s a simple solution for brands —be the shortcut. The good challenger brands are already doing this.

Dish TV observed that people wish they could travel with their TV programming. Sports fans have forever lugged around giant satellite dishes and mounted them to the top of their vehicles so they can tailgate and watch live football from the stadium parking lot. This year, Dish unveiled a very portable and affordable satellite dish: the Tailgater. And for business travelers praying for solid Wi-Fi so they can watch their shows from the hotel, Dish introduced the HopperGo, a portable DVR that doesn’t need the Internet to play content.

Easy portable programming: It’s a shortcut, and a real competitive advantage for Dish.  

Under Armour is trying to hit hard on the technical credentials of its athletic gear. Athletes want to measure themselves, but have to find ways to connect tracking devices from so many different ecosystems. At CES, Under Armour unveiled HealthBox, a complete suite of athletic tracking devices produced by HTC and connected to the UA Record ecosystem.

Dish and Under Armour are using technology to steal customers and cement loyalty by creating shortcuts for their consumers.

So how can the rest of us marketers learn from them? We’ll follow the same R&D process as technology companies:

  • Look for holes in your products ecosystem through negative reviews and competitive rumors.
  • Partner up with other companies that can make the technology for you, while also providing some credibility and equity in the tech space
  • Reward the hackers by finding the people who are breaking your products and misusing them and enabling the rest of the world to participate in those behaviors

CES is my personal reminder to be a provider of services and shortcuts in all what we do. It is my hope that the industry at large will catch on, and help get us closer to achieving that holy utopia of the Jetsons. 

Rohit Thawani is director of digital strategy and social media at TBWA.

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