The Consumer Engagement Show: In a Changing Landscape, Is It Time for CES to Rebrand?
Earlier this month, I attended the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas for the first time in over a decade. Many things have changed: For one thing, you can finally get a cab without a 90-minute wait! There are more hotels, more fancy restaurants, more over the top parties and concerts, but interestingly fewer people than at its peak of 250,000 (attendance this year was about 175,000).
While I was at the event, I did a “Girls Gone Walkin’” tour, hosted by the Female Quotient, with one of my colleagues from Braze. It was a 90-minute curated look at CES highlights and was definitely the most efficient use of my time all week. The show is massive, so the notion of wandering around on your own in a sea of white men—that part, sadly, has not changed in the last decade—without a clear plan is a bit intimidating, even for me. So, there we were, about 150 of us, drawing all sorts of attention in our wolfpack, wearing headphones so we could hear our tour guide through all the din.
Here’s what I found:
LG, Samsung, and Sony have presences here that are almost a show in and of themselves
Never seen so many TVs in one place in my life. Also, I’ve never seen companies with their tentacles in so many aspects of our lives—from refrigerators that generate your grocery list to closets that let you dry clean your clothes in 90 seconds flat! (These days, CES can feel like the new Home Show.)
CES 2020 is also the new Auto Show
The convergence of mobility, autonomy, and sustainability makes CES a natural for Detroit automakers (and others) to show off their innovation and also their ecosystems of partners and collaborators. Toyota, for one, had a scale model of an entire city it’s creating at the base of Mount Fuji. Voice activation in autos was everywhere—in fact, one of Amazon’s booths was in the auto hall, showcasing how Alexa can support connected cars. The Hyundai/Uber collaboration on an “air taxi” is basically the Jetsons’ vision come to fruition. Not sure I’ll ever ride in one, but the fact that it exists at all is pretty stunning.
An airline showed up!
Speaking of air travel, Delta Airlines made a point of being at CES this year—a first, I believe, for an airline company. The company’s booth focused on showing off biometric check-in possibilities and exoskeletal rigs to better protect and support human baggage handlers.
Digital “people” were everywhere
And the only thing digital about them was that they appeared on screens. If this is the next generation of bot, the bots are in trouble...and the same may go for people working in quick service restaurants, customer support, and retail. For those of you old enough to remember The Stepford Wives—no, not the Nicole Kidman version—this was it, only more lifelike and not quite so creepy.
When it comes to gender balance at CES...we’re not there yet
As one of my colleagues put it, CES is still a “C...of men.” And, to be more specific, a sea of white men. Despite the focus on diversity and inclusion in corporate America over the past decade, especially in the tech sector, you wouldn’t know anything had changed based on walking the floor at CES 2020.
To be fair, the old era of the “booth babe” is mostly over—I saw a lot of men doing demos and manning the booths, and most seemed to be dressed in normal clothing. But it did stick with me that while these sorts of low-paying jobs at CES, which used to be primarily held by women, are now more balanced, the bulk of people with high-paying jobs who are walking the show and sitting on panels are still men. So, is that progress? Not sure.
Bringing CES into the present day
The first CES was held all the way back in 1967, more than 50 years ago, and while those early editions were very much about showcasing new gadgets, things have changed. It's a new age, and in my opinion, it’s time for CES to rebrand. Here are my nominations:
- Consumer Experience Show
- Consumer Engagement Show
- Consumer Ecosystem Show
I have a slight preference for #2, but whichever option you choose, it’s pretty clear that CES isn’t primarily about electronics anymore. Today’s consumer is smarter, savvier, and more cynical about the experiences they have with brands. Electronic devices are just a vehicle to deliver that experience—which is powered more and more by both human and artificial intelligence. And consumer expectations are only going in one direction: Up.
That means next year’s CES will probably be another magical, awe-inspiring glimpse at what creativity and intellect can bring into the world. But with that said, it’s my hope that next year’s CES will focus less on what’s possible and more on what’s needed. In a world increasingly defined by division and inequality, a focus on empathy and equality are essential ingredients in the innovation mix.
Hey, that’s two more E’s—how about the Consumer Empathy and Equality Show? Just a thought....