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Looking beyond the CES hype to focus on true marketing innovations

IPG Mediabrands


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January 2, 2024 | 7 min read

Every year the Consumer Electronics Show is seen as a showcase for the next big thing. But while some products get a majority of airtime, often genuine breakthroughs are overshadowed, says Adam Simon (SVP, managing director, IPG Media Lab).

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is the world's premier consumer tech trade show, a melting pot of cool innovations, marketing hype, and futuristic visions. Every year, CES becomes a battleground for emerging technologies and a showcase for the next big thing. 

However, not everything is as it seems. Some products get a majority of airtime, often overshadowing genuine breakthroughs. In this article, we dissect four major themes that we foresee showing up at this upcoming CES and reveal the realities behind them.

Theme 1: The AI overstatement

The hype: Thanks to the rapid developments and adoption of generative AI, “powered by AI” has become a catch-all term, liberally attached to many products and services that don’t materially benefit from AI. We expect that the 'AI-powered' tag will become ubiquitous at this CES, as exhibitors are eager to jump on the bandwagon without necessarily deploying generative AI for real, tangible use cases. The surging amount of AI-powered wearable devices is to be expected and will likely amplify this myth, but most of them will end up being nothing more than functional demos.

The reality: At its core, the value of AI is not in its ubiquity, but in its impact on the consumer experience and our collective productivity. So, at this CES, keep an eye out for the AI deployment in areas such as healthcare, connected cars, and smart home appliances, especially when it is being leveraged to create a more intuitive user interface via natural dialogues.

Of course, not everything needs an AI-powered conversational interface, and not everything that deploys AI is automatically smart and consumer-ready. If anything, most AI-powered products should be met with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Theme 2: The mixed reality mirage

The hype: The allure of immersive entertainment is undeniable — just look at the giant Sphere that altered the Vegas landscape forever — and in recent years, CES show floors are often flush with demonstrations of futuristic mixed reality (MR) hardware products, often with promises of transforming entertainment, education, and work. With Apple’s high-end mixed reality headset, Vision Pro, looming large on the horizon, this CES is bound to see some small manufacturers trying to capitalize on the incessant hype and come out with their own lower-end interpretations of a MR headset. Yet, most of them are unlikely to move the needle quickly on consumer adoption.

The reality: The transformative potential of MR is rooted in its ability to merge digital and physical worlds in meaningful ways. Industry leaders are not just creating devices but cultivating ecosystems that enable users to derive value from MR technology. Apple and Meta are crafting platforms where developers can create rich, interactive experiences, which, in turn, could lead to real, compelling use cases for consumers.

Furthermore, location-based MR experiences like the Sphere and Meow Wolf offer community-centric, shared experiences that push the boundaries of traditional entertainment and immersive art installations. These ventures indicate a shift towards MR as a medium for collective, rather than solitary, experiences.

Theme 3: The EV slump

The 'hype': This one is actually more anti-hype, but expect some auto brands to talk about a perceived decline in consumer interest in electric vehicles (EVs) at this CES. Auto brands have infiltrated the CES show floors in recent years, with EVs being a cornerstone of auto innovations. This year, however, the narrative around EVs is shifting, as some legacy automakers struggle to manufacture and market new electric models. So, don’t be surprised to hear some auto exhibitors talk down on EV adoption at this CES. In addition, we may even hear talks of pushing hydrogen-fueled cars as an alternative to EVs again.

The reality: What the EV sector is experiencing is a diversification of options rather than a decline. While some auto brands did see a decline in EV sales in recent months, that is not applicable to all auto brands. Hyundai, for example, actually reported solid growth in its EV sales this year. Overall, despite the doom and gloom, EV sales are growing faster than any other auto segment in the U.S. — and are on track to surpass 1 million annually for the first time this year. Additionally, the high maintenance and lack of supporting infrastructure for hydrogen cars make them an unlikely replacement for consumer-facing EVs.

So, in order to see the future of mobility, direct your attention instead to the latest EV models from emerging global brands with strong in-car connectivity features. While it is too early to tell which EV maker will make a splash on the CES show floors next month, recent years suggest that brands such as Lucid, BYD, and VinFast are worth looking out for.

Theme 4: The smart home gap

The hype: Matter, a smart home protocol that is meant to connect all smart home devices and enable them to communicate with each other, has been slowly rolling out over the course of 2023. At this CES, we expect to hear some smart home manufacturers cite the continued rollout of the Matter standard a major talking point when arguing for an impending smart home revolution, as it promises to truly standardize the interoperability between smart home devices and make everything work together seamlessly, regardless of who made them.

The reality: While Matter's potential remains impactful in theory, In terms of consumer adoption, the arrival of Matter alone has yet to significantly close the gap between the initial wave of smart speaker adoption and the goal of creating a true ecosystem that brands can tap into.

The issues around the Matter standard will likely take a few more years for stakeholders to sort out. In the meantime, brand marketers interested in reaching consumers at home should take a second look at the smart speakers, now that both Amazon and Google have committed to integrating generative AI models into Alexa and Google Assistant, respectively. Smart assistants are about to become far more intuitive in the way they understand commands and engage users in a dialog, which spells a renewed opportunity for brands looking to show up at home via voice-based interfaces.

Further, brands should also pay attention to the connected TV interfaces, which are likely to receive a revamp courtesy of AI integrations as well. As I mentioned earlier, not all those AI-powered interfaces will be good or even necessary, but perhaps one or more of the TV manufacturers will get it right, and subsequently usher in a new era for interactive ads on connected TV.

What you should expect at CES

At the end of the day, CES is a fest of competition visions for the future. Thus, it is as much a showcase of what's possible as a reflection of what's probable. As we navigate the sea of exciting announcements and dazzling demos next month, it's vital to discern the substance from the smoke. By understanding the hype and conventional narratives that often cloud our perception, we can better appreciate the real breakthroughs that will shape consumer behavior now and in the years to come.

By Adam Simon, SVP, managing director, IPG Media Lab

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